When Did British Wrestling Get So Big?
On November 13th 2004, FWA (Frontier Wrestling Alliance) ran the biggest post-World of Sport era show the British Wrestling scene had ever seen. A reported 1,785 fans saw such names as Terry Funk, Drew McDonald, AJ Styles, Colt Cabana, Paul Burchill, Spud and Doug Williams on the card at the Coventry Skydome that night for British Uprising III. A few months later, on March 19th 2005, the FWA teamed with the old Wrestling Channel to present International Showdown, with such matches as Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk, 2 Cold Scorpio, Doug Williams & James Tighe vs. Mitsuharu Misawa, Tiger Emperor & Yoshinari Ogawa, Raven vs. Alex Shane and AJ Styles vs. Chris Daniels. I attended both of these shows at the Coventry Skydome and for the longest time, nearly ten years in fact, that period was viewed as the peak of the British wrestling scene. Sure other international companies have come over to these shores and ran some pretty damn big shows: NOAH in 2008 drew approximately 2,400 fans to the Skydome to see Misawa & Marufuji vs. Kobashi & Shiozaki and ROH ran several big shows in Liverpool and London in 06/07. Even Dragon Gate got in on the act, starting up the DGUK outpost in 2009, however despite bringing over top names like Shingo, Tozawa, CIMA and Doi, for whatever reason the promotion didn’t really make that much of an impact on the UK scene. I still regard the first ROH show in England on August 12th 2006 as the most fun I’ve ever had at a wrestling show and the best show I have ever seen live, with the Briscoes vs. Austin Aries & Roderick Strong and Bryan Danielson vs. Nigel McGuinniess both being **** ½ classics. With all that in mind, the Revolution Pro show I attended this past Sunday, June 14th 2015, came mightily close to knocking off the ROH Unified show off the top spot for the greatest live experience at a pro wrestling event I have ever had.
There’s something happening on the UK scene. At least 4 indie promotions have emerged above the rest and carved out niches for themselves in what at one time appeared to be a putrefied market. ICW out of Scotland got on national TV with the BBC Insane Fight Club documentary, Preston City has become the biggest promotion in the north of England and ran joint shows with ROH in November last year. Then there are the two big London powerhouses: PROGRESS and Rev Pro. If you have not heard of PROGRESS then I assume you have been living under a rock, because they are arguably the hottest promotion in Europe right now. The group has a Punk-Rock aesthetic and mainly runs shows in intimate venues which focus heavily on UK and European talent, with the occasional international name brought in to add a little extra kick. PROGRESS recently ran 5 consecutive nights at the heavy metal Download Festival held at the legendary Donnington Park, which regularly draws around 80,000 metal heads to the spiritual home of metal in the UK. I attended the festival religiously for the first 5 years of its existence (2003-2007), until the inevitable commercialization of the event took away from the spirit of the festival, which was the successor to the original Monsters of Rock that ran from 1980-1996. Knowing the mood at Donnington I imagine the atmosphere in the 3,500 capacity small tent was absolutely electric and it is the first time in years I regret not attending the festival.
Rev Pro on the other hand, while still building their core roster around UK talent, bring in big names from the US indie scene and have worked out a deal with New Japan to use their top stars on big shows at least twice a year. Promoter Andy Quildan has really struck gold with the New Japan deal, as fans from all over Europe travel to see names like Tanahashi, Nakamura, Okada, Ishii, and Liger perform live and in person. The only question is if Rev Pro makes enough money out of its big shows at York Hall, which has a capacity of 1,200 and more often than not sells out, to cover all the expenses of flying in all the top New Japan guys. It is hard to say how long this new boom period of British Wrestling will last or if it will continue to grow to new heights. Obviously if one of the 4 promotions I mentioned get a TV deal that will be a massive step forward; ICW were actually on small SKY channel My Channel for a brief period before getting kicked off the air for running afoul of communications regulator and morality police, OFCOM, in 2012. WAW (World Association of Wrestling), run by Ricky & Saraya Knight managed to land a Saturday evening timeslot on My Channel, however their TV shows are nothing more than a hodgepodge of low-budget green screen interviews and months old spot show matches. Rev Pro seems like the best choice to present an actual television show, as they have the best production values out of all the UK promotions, and they have started running their own 40 minute YouTube show which goes up every Monday. Maybe a real TV deal for Rev Pro is an outlandish idea, but on October 2nd the company is running Uprising 2015, which is set to be the biggest show, in terms of star quality, the UK scene has possibly ever witnessed, or at least since Kobashi & Misawa graced these shores. Already booked for October 2nd is, New British Heavyweight Champion, AJ Styles vs. Marty Scurll vs. Will Osprey, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Kazuchika Okada & Gedo, Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Big Damo, plus ACH will be making his Rev Pro debut too. Something tells me I’m going to have a new favourite live show experience after October 2nd.
Rev Pro Road Report.
My weekend started with a four and a half hour coach journey down to London on Saturday at 11am. For whatever reason the company running the coach service, National Express, decided that stopping at motorway service stations was completely out of the question and I can tell you sitting down for 207 miles is not the most pleasant experience, especially if you are 6’4 and you have no legroom whatsoever other than the aisle way. And using the bathroom? Forget it. The toilet facilities on these damn coaches make airplane restrooms look like en suites at the Hilton. Even though I was exhausted from less than 4 hours sleep, taking a nap on the coach was simply not an option as it was simply far too uncomfortable to do so. My girlfriend Bev, at a much more compact 5’2, had no problem dozing off so I passed most of the time by listening to F4W and Review-A-Wai podcasts. After the unpleasantness of the coach, we then had a 50 minute taxi ride from the centre of London to our hotel in Bethnal Green, a district in the East side of London. The only problem was that our journey coincided with the Trooping of the Colour: a goofy ceremony to commemorate the Queen’s kayfabe birthday (British monarchs get two birthdays). This archaic ritual not only put another 20 minutes on our taxi ride, but caused our driver to take so many “short cuts” that it ended up costing us £39!!! If I already didn’t hate the monarchy enough…
After crashing in our hotel room for a couple of hours we decided it was time to get some food, so we walked about 50 yards to a Pizza Hut and got the 2 large pizzas, 2 sides and a drink for £20 deal. A bargain! Sufficiently full, we walked off all those carbs in a near-by park before heading back to the room to watch some TV. Now, I’ve been to different countries where the only English language channel available is CNN, but even so there were still a number of other channels to choose from. Here, in London mind you, we received exactly 8 TV channels. EIGHT! It was like the 1980s or something. We watched one of those goofy countdown shows about how “great” the 90s were; I was a kid in the 90s and didn’t think much of it at the time, but my god some of the clothes and hairstyles people wore! Once Bev was asleep I pulled up the WWE Network on her tablet and watched whatever was on the live stream at the time; I believe it was that inane WWE List show and it didn’t take long before that show put me to sleep too.
Strangely, I woke up on Sunday not particularly excited for the show. Maybe the previous day’s travel just took it out of me, because the idea of lying in bed seemed more enticing than getting up to go see a wrestling show. I quickly snapped out of my slump and the anticipation began to build while we were getting ready to leave for the doors opening at 4pm, for a 5pm bell time. We arrived at York Hall and there wasn’t really a discernable queue, nor were there any signs or instructions to follow, it was just a bunch of people hanging around the front of the building. Eventually a line formed which we joined and after 45 minutes of standing around the doors opened and people were let inside. Some genius had stuck a “balcony only” sign on the entrance that 90% of the people, including us, were waiting outside of so that caused a lot of confusion. However, instead of going all the way back to the front of the building to join another queue for floor seats, we cut right to the front of both lines to complain about the “balcony only” fiasco. “Floor seats are that line” the unpleasant women snarled at us, expecting we would turn around and go back to wait outside again. “Forget that” I said, only in more colourful terms, and I grabbed Bev by the hand and walked right to the front of the Floor seating line.
Once inside the first thing I saw was Colt Cabana shilling his merch at the gimmick tables, but then my eyes were drawn to a small table in the corner of the room. There was a big New Japan logo set up off to the side and two very small, very cute Japanese women sat behind it. Everyone was crowding around the bigger gimmick tables, with Colt Cabana and at one point AJ Styles, and not a single person was over at the New Japan table. Bev and I found our seats then decided to go check out the New Japan merch. We were pretty much the first people to approach the small table, but once we did it seemed like everyone else suddenly wanted to come over and check it out. We bought two signed 8x10s of Nakamura and Ishii and one of those small Japanese flag gimmicks with a bunch of logos on it at a total of £30. The cost didn’t matter, as Bev noted, “those girls are so cute I just want them to take my money!” There was an AWESOME Stan Hansen t-shirt which I sort of regret not buying, however I was sceptical of just how “extra” a Japanese XL shirt would be and gave it a miss. We took a few steps back and turned 90 degrees to have a look at one of the bigger gimmick tables but it was too crowded to really see anything. We were just about to go back to our seats when I turned back to look at the New Japan table. “Holy Sh*t, Bev! Look who is over there.” I said. It was Shinsuke Nakamura, posing for pictures a mere 5ft away from us. We both turned into complete star-struck marks and fumbled for £10 to hand over for a picture with Shinsuke. The guy in front of us asked Bev to take the picture of him and Nakamura, however poor Bev’s hands were shaking so much that she couldn’t hold the camera steady. Just as I offered to take it, Nakamura reached over and took the camera off Bev and handed it to one of the women working at the New Japan gimmick table, who seemed pleasantly amused at how excited Bev was. Our turn came and we had our picture taken; we must have said “thank you” about ten times. I thought to myself afterwards that I should have said something like, “Shinsuke, you win G1 this year”, but it was probably better that I didn’t.
After the show, we got the chance to pose for a picture with Ishii and by that point we had calmed down and were much more relaxed about it. The deal was you paid £10 for a picture with Ishii and you got an 8×10 as well. We showed Ishii the 8×10 we bought earlier and he said, “OK, OK, Free, Free” and signed another 8×10 of himself in a different pose than the one we already had. What completely blew my mind is that Ishii gave me the light worker handshake! Seriously, he was so polite and had such a soft handshake that it boggled my mind.
Revolution Pro Wrestling “Summer Sizzler” – June 14th 2015.
York Hall: Bethnal Green, London.
The show opened with a dark match taped for Rev Pro TV on YouTube, featuring Tommy End vs. Josh Bodom. It was my first time seeing End live and he has a tremendous presence to go with his great look and unique style. Bodom won with the Bliss Buster, a wacky piledriver through the ropes. It was a decent 8 minute opener.
British Tag Team Championship: The Revolutionists (Sha Samuels & James Castle) vs. Joel Redman (C) & Jake McCluskey (filling in for Mark Haskins). – Samuels & Castle became the new British Tag Champs in 8:55. Match was decent, but probably the weakest on the show. Joel Redman is the former Oliver Grey of NXT fame and he was booked like the star of the match, throwing around the heels with a bunch of suplexes. Samuels & Castle are part of the top heel faction, the Revolutionists, along with Josh Bodom and British Heavyweight Champ, Marty Scurll. I like Samuels, “Butcher of the East End” gimmick a lot and he plays the sadistic heel tremendously. It was typical of TNA not to take him to America for the finals of British Boot Camp 2.
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Big Damo. – Big Damo got the surprise upset in 13:08. This was a great match. Big Damo is kind of like a bigger version of Dave Mastiff and Ishii worked a similar match to his G1 encounters with Davey Boy Smith Jr & Bad Luck Fale. Ishii worked at chopping down the bigger man and they did a couple of fighting spirit spots. Ishii got Big Damo up for a suplex then later landed a superplex which the crowd went nuts for. Damo gave Ishii a freakin’ One Winged Angel (!!!) then went coast to coast like RVD with a massive dropkick to Ishii’s shoulder and got the pin with a backsplash. (****)
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Roderick Strong. – Nakamura over in 13:50. Very good match; Roddy was a replacement for Ricochet, who had some visa issues. Nakamura had one of his dancers on the stage for his entrance. There was a good 5 minutes of stalling at the start, with the fans doing the PWG, “Sh*tty Little Boots” chant at Strong, who played along like a pro and refused to wrestle until the crowd shut up. Once the match got going the chant changed to, “Sh*tty Little Chop” when Roddy nailed Nakamura with some chops that were anything but sh*tty. It was mostly back-and-forth; Nakamura sold for a while after missing his guillotine knee drop. There were some great near-falls and strike battles, with Nakamura kicking out of the gutbuster and sick-kick and Roddy kicking out of the Boma Ye. Finish saw another awesome strike exchange then Nakamura got the pin with a Boma Ye to the back of the head. Post-match, Big Damo came out and challenged Nakamura to a match on October 2nd and Shinsuke’s response was, “YeaaaOh!!!” (*** ¾ )
British Cruiserweight Championship, 2-out-of-3 Falls: Will Osprey (C) vs. Matt Sydal. – Ospreay retained in 26:40. This was match of the night by far. Both men looked great, especially Matt Sydal who was the glue that held this thing together. First fall went about 7 minutes and was mostly solid, but basic stuff until a crazy spot which saw Sydal counter a handspring into a reverse hurricanrana then he hit the shooting star to go 1-0. Second fall was around 15 minutes and it was basically Sydal working over Ospreay’s arm for the heat, which Ospreay did a FANTASTIC job of selling throughout the match. They did some big near-falls and Ospreay evened it up at 1-1 with a roll-up. They started the third fall by brawling outside; Sydal took a backdrop on the ridiculously hard ramp then Ospreay took a suplex on the ramp too. I was literally sat right next to the ramp and saw these bumps up close and I can assure you watching on the VOD didn’t do them any justice. Sydal worked on the arm some more, but Ospreay fired up and went into a flurry which whipped the crowd up into a frenzy. They did some more highspots and near-falls then finally Ospreay used the Red Arrow/British Airways to get the pin. – I’d say this was a MOTY candidate; it probably won’t get many votes being on a relatively small stage, but it is defiantly in the top 5 matches I have ever seen live. (**** ½ )
Andy Quildan announced that Matt Sydal had similar visa issues to Ricochet and almost didn’t make the show too, however Sydal paid out of his own pocket for a last minute flight which landed in London at 12pm. The fans appreciated that greatly and it made Sydal’s performance even more remarkable.
Colt Cabana & Matt Classic vs. Lord Gideon Grey & Rishi Ghosh. – Cabana & Classic over in a wildly entertaining 10 minute comedy match. Matt Classic was played by Grado and only the referee and Rishi Ghosh played dumb. Gideon Grey protested that Classic had “Grado” tattooed on his arm and was wearing a bumbag. The ref asked Classic, “Sir, are you Grado” and he replied, “NO” in the thickest Scottish accent imaginable. It was hilarious. Cabana tapped Gideon with the Billy Goat’s Curse after 10 minutes of riotous fun.
British Heavyweight Championship: Marty Scurll (C) vs. AJ Styles (IWGP Heavyweight Champion). – AJ became the new champ in 18:55. I wasn’t expecting too much from this, but it turned out to be a very good main event. Scurll came out with his Revolutionist stable but the referee banned them from ringside. They worked it like a “big match”, starting out slow and building towards the bigger spots. Scurll has come a long way in the past couple of years and has established himself as the top heel in the promotion, so much so that a good portion of the crowd were behind him. Nobody really believed that AJ was going to win, however when the Revolutionists were thrown out there was only really ever going to be one outcome, as the IWGP champion was never going to lose clean. When AJ finally hit the Styles Clash it almost seemed like slow motion as I thought in my head, “there’s no way Scurll is kicking out of the Clash” but I still couldn’t imagine AJ winning. I looked to the back to see if the heels were going to do a run-in, but there wasn’t enough time as the ref already started to count the fall. The crowd erupted in delight/amazement that AJ had actually won the British Heavyweight title and he put over Scurll for having a great match. Scurll gave AJ a cheap shot after the match and went to nail him with the belt but Will Ospreay hit the ring to make the save. Ospreay handed AJ the British title and the IWGP title then the fans chanted, “Triple theat” and Andy Quildan announced that the three-way would take place on October 2nd. (*** ¾ )
The show is already up in VOD form at revolutionprowrestling.com/on-demand and is well worth £12.99 ($20.63). The Ishii & Nakamura matches were great and Ospreay/Sydal is worth the price alone. October 2nd is going to be one hell of a show and, like I said earlier, might very well be the biggest British Wrestling show in the last 25 years. I certainly have not been more excited for a live show then I am for Uprising 2015; I just hope that none of the New Japan guys get seriously injured before then. I’ll be watching the G1 this year with baited breath and cringing even more than ever at every big bump and stiff shot during the inevitable string of outstanding matches the tournament has become world renowned for.
It has never been easier to find and watch great pro wrestling than it is in 2015. I myself struggle to keep up with all the TV shows, iPPVs and on demand content that is out there, but if you can find the time then you probably should start paying more attention to what is going on in the UK. Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll were just recently announced at part of PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles 2015 line-up, so the hottest indie promotion in the US has started to take note of the top guys on the UK scene and I expect both guys to fit in seamlessly at BOLA, especially Ospreay.
I’ve said pretty much all I can about the UK scene and the awesome Rev Pro show, so if you didn’t get bored and are still here then your reward is two amazing pictures of Ishii and Nakamura doing what all tourists do when they come to England: Visiting Stonehenge and sitting in a field with a bunch of random cows!