Pro Wrestling Guerrilla Battle of Los Angeles – August 28-30th 2015
American Legion Post #308: Reseda, CA.
The 2015 Battle of Los Angeles is already being talked about as one of the greatest tournaments in the history of professional wrestling. This may be somewhat of a cop-out, but I’m not sure if I am willing to hang my hat on such a definitive assertion without the benefit of a little hindsight. As more time passes, perhaps BOLA 2015 will indeed be remembered along with the 1994 Super J Cup, the 2013/14 G1 Climaxes, or even the King of the Indies and Super 8 from 2001 in the pantheon of legendary tournaments. One thing that will be evident in the future is that this year’s edition of BOLA was almost a microcosm of the pro wrestling business as a whole in 2015. The only thing that was missing were the top New Japan stars, however in terms of a snapshot of independent wrestling these three shows are virtually the perfect time capsule. Over the past decade or so you can pretty much track the progression and evolution of independent wrestling by looking at the top stars and how their styles influenced the scene as a whole. The Ring of Honor style circa 2002-2006 had Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Bryan Danielson, Low-Ki, Christopher Daniels, CM Punk, and many more, tearing it up with matches that became the talk of the business. Then the Dragon Gate guys came over to the US and blew everybody’s minds with a million highspots and working 100mph. By 2010, pretty much all the top guys from the ROH era had moved on and over the years DGUSA gradually stopped bringing in the Japanese stars, to the point where the promotion became just another indie fed and eventually stopped running shows altogether in 2014.
You don’t have to look further than the winner of BOLA 2015 to see how things are already starting to take a different turn. Zack Sabre Jr. is one of the hottest guys on the scene and is the master of that throwback European style of grappling, wacky submissions and extravagant escapes to basic holds. Drew Gulak & Timothy Thatcher are two of the more high profile new wave of catchers and work a similar style to Sabre, but with enough differences to not come off like cheap clones. Gulak almost works like a guy you would have seen on the DuMont Network in 1950, whereas Thatcher is more of a UWFI/RINGS type grappler, but both men, along with Sabre, rely a lot on solid fundamentals, not to mention logic and psychology, which were almost forgotten about altogether by the guys who wanted to copy the Dragon Gate style but didn’t quite understand why it worked. Then there are guys like Biff Busick, who is just an all-round great worker and can hang with Gulak, Thatcher & Sabre when it comes to the technical stuff, but can also mix it up with pretty much anyone and adapt to any style. Of course Chris Hero is the king when it comes to adaptation and can seamlessly switch from a striker to a grappler depending on who he is in the ring with. Tommy End takes things a different direction and would have been right at home in the Dutch RINGS stable along with Dick Vrij & Chris Dolman. As noted, all these guys incorporate a certain level of realism in their matches, but there is another side to the European style that perhaps represents the duality of current independent wrestling.
When it comes to high-flying, crazy spotfests, there is no doubt the Young Bucks are almost untouchable; hell, it’s their gimmick after all. Ricochet is right up there too, as are Jack Evans, who was doing absurd high-spots before it became an acceptable form of getting heat, and his partner, Angelico, who if you have seen AAA/Lucha Underground isn’t afraid to do stupid dives off really high structures to elicit a pop. You might not immediately think of Europe or the UK as a place that breeds top quality high-flyers, but Mark Andrews and Will Ospreay showed the fans in Reseda that the UK can produce dudes that do a bunch of flips as well. Andrews may have the stink of TNA on him, but he is so smooth that soon becomes irrelevant while watching him work. As for Ospreay, well he has all the potential to become one of the top names on the international indie circuit; the guy has only been working for about three years and is already a main eventer in his home country. With a little more seasoning, Ospreay’s possibilities in the business could become limitless. Currently, Marty Scurll is arguably the best all-rounder working full-time on the UK scene and he also had a fantastic tournament. Unlike Andrews & Ospreay, Scurll is by no means a high-flyer and he also doesn’t fit into the tough-guy grappler mould of Sabre Jr. & Thatcher. Like most British guys, he can do all the World of Sport spots when required but Scurll is more of the traditional, straightforward, pro wrestler. Scurll has also been able to overcome the lame “Party Marty” gimmick and being that guy who appeared on a douchey dating show; his facial expressions and body language are tremendous and fit his “Villain” character perfectly.
The European guys certainly had a huge impact on BOLA this year and brought something extra to the shows, however when you add Luchadors to PWG’s usual cast of characters and the Euros, you get one big hodgepodge of awesomeness. AAA has been more accessible than ever this year with live iPPVs and their TV shows on YouTube, but it is really down to the cult following of Lucha Underground that guys like Pentagon Jr., Drago, Fenix, Aero Star and to an extent, Los Gueros del Cielo (Evans & Angelico) could be brought in for the tourney; Melissa Santos was even on ring announcing duties for Night One. While all the Luchadors received good reactions, Pentagon Jr. was over like a superstar. Other guys like Sabre Jr., Hero, Thatcher, the Bucks, Ricochet and Busick all come across like super over guys that are the hardcore fans’ favourites, but Pentagon had something special that nobody else on the shows even came close to achieving: a legitimate superstar aura.
There’s no question that the 2015 Battle of Los Angeles is up there for one of the best events of the year; there were tons of four star+ performances (I came in at 14, but you may differ here and there) and out of the 28 matches, there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch which is damn sure impressive. Even the G1 had all those Yujiro & Fale matches. Instead of recapping all 28 matches and being here until next year’s tournament, I’ve decided to just give a basic overview of the matches and a star rating, because you really should just go watch these shows.
Night One – 28th August 2015.
Brian Cage vs. Aero Star. – Cage over with the Steiner Screwdriver! Kind of sloppy in places and was the closest thing to a bad match all weekend. (**)
Biff Busick vs. Andrew Everett. – Busick over with a running European Uppercut. They told a decent story with Biff trying to keep Everett grounded. (***)
Mark Andrews vs. Will Ospreay. – Ospreay over with the 630 Splash. All action, excellent match between two guys who have worked together plenty of times before. Fans got into both guys and were going nuts by the end. (**** ¼)
Los Gueros del Cielo (Jack Evans & Angelico) vs. Inner City Machine Guns (Rich Swann & Ricochet) – Los Gueros del Cielo over when Evans pinned Rich Swann with a 630, (same finish as the previous match). This wasn’t as good as Evans & Angelico vs. the Bucks from earlier this year, but was still a lot of fun. (*** ¾ )
Trent? vs. Trevor Lee. – Lee over with the Small Package Driver. These guys had an uphill battle following the previous two matches, but by the end they had a solid outing and got the crowd into it. (*** ¼ )
Drago vs. Pentagon Jr. – Pentagon over with the Package Piledriver. Basic showcase for each guy, nothing blow-away. Still crazy to see this match tale place in a PWG ring. (***)
Fenix vs. Matt Sydal. – Sydal over with one of six Reverse Ranas on the show and the Shooting Star Press. Great way to close the tourney on Night One. Having never worked together before, these guys had a hell of a match that felt somewhat spontaneous, probably because they were working stuff out as they went along. Plenty of dives and high-spots. Fun stuff. (****)
Mount Rushmore 2.0 (Roderick Strong & The Young Bucks) v. Eurotrash (Tommy End, Zack Sabre Jr., Marty Scurll). – 2.0 over when Strong pinned Sabre Jr. with the End of Heartache. Hell of a match that kept the Strong/Sabre feud on the boil. Everyone looked superb here. Finish saw 2.0 isolate Sabre and the Bucks killed him with a Superkick Party before Roddy put him away. (**** ¼)
Night Two – 29th August 2015.
Marty Scurll vs. Rich Swann. – Scurll over with the Chicken Wing. These guys have worked before in Europe and had a really good opener. (*** ½ )
Jack Evans vs. Angelico. – Evans over with a Crane Kick, because Reseda is where Ralph Macchio is from. Highlights were Angelico landing a dive over the top then taking Dave Meltzer’s notepad and writing something on it and a Drunken Master spot from Evans after drinking a fan’s beer. (***)
Chris Hero vs. Timothy Thatcher. – Hero over with the Hero’s Welcome. Playing off their feud from Evolve and the awesome WrestleMania weekend match, they told the story of Hero being unable to knock Thatcher out, which is why he resorted to using the Hero’s Welcome. Contender for match of the weekend. (**** ½)
Aero Star & Fenix vs. Drago & Pentagon Jr. – Aero Star & Fenix over with the Fenix Driver on Drago. Typical Lucha fun with the usual clunkiness early and high-spots aplenty. Aero Star did a splash off Fenix’s shoulders while he was stood on the middle rope. (*** ¼)
Tommy End vs. Drew Gulak. – End over with a flash knock-out after an elbow. Solid enough, but this couldn’t touch the Hero/Thatcher match, which was a similar striker vs. grappler deal. (***)
Drew Galloway vs. Speedball Mike Bailey. – Bailey over with a roll-up. This was much better than it had any right to be. I thought Galloway might be given a hard time by the PWG crowd, but they took to him just fine. It helped that he made Bailey look like a superstar. There were tons of big spots and near-falls; Bailey countered the Future Shock DDT to get the roll-up. (****)
Ricochet vs. Zack Sabre JR. – Sabre over with the European Clutch. Fabulous match with a great story: the high-flyer vs. the technical wizard. Sabre tied-up Ricochet for a while then Ricochet came back to hit some big moves and Sabre kicked-out of the 630. I preferred other matches but I can see this being match of the weekend for some people. (**** ¼)
Guerrilla Warfare Match: Mount Rushmore 2.0 (Super Dragon & The Young Bucks) vs. Biff Busick, Andrew Everett, & Trevor Lee. – 2.0 over with a Psycho Meltzer Driver. This was car-crash, spot-fest, out of control violence at its best. I loved it. Tons of craziness. Bucks pulled out the Spike Jordans they used on Candice LeRae last year and killed Busick with them. Post-match saw Excalibur cut a promo about assembling a team to fight 2.0; the Bucks came back and Superkicked him to death and Super Dragon destroyed his old partner with a Psycho Driver through two chairs. (**** ½)
Night Three (Second Round, Semi-Finals & Final) – 30th August 2015.
Brain Cage vs. Jack Evans. – Evans over with a bridging pin. Cage took the whole match and tossed Evans around until Jack scored a flash pinfall. (** ¾)
Biff Busick vs. Chris Hero. – Hero over with an Avalanche Piledriver. Biff’s swansong in PWG was a fittingly hard-hitting affair, it’s just a shame we’ll never see the singles match with Super Dragon. (****)
Trevor Lee vs. Marty Scurll. – Scurll over with the Chicken Wing. Marty worked over Lee’s arm pretty much the whole match and hit a tornado DDT to set up his dreaded submission hold. (*** ¾)
Pentagon Jr vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – Sabre over with a Kimura. Another contender for match of the weekend and this no doubt could have main evented anywhere in the US or Europe. It was wacky Lucha submissions vs. wacky British catch holds early and it RULED! Zack sold a lot for Pentagon; crowd went crazy. It never reached match of the year level, but this is definitely a must-see affair. (**** ¼)
“Speedball” Mike Bailey vs. Tommy End. – Bailey over with an execution style kick. This was a crazy kick-fest and they beat the absolute crap out of each other with a millions strikes. Bailey hit his Shooting Star Knees on the apron. Another match that wildly over-delivered. (****)
Will Ospreay vs. Matt Sydal. – Ospreay over with the 630 Splash. I saw these two work together at the Rev Pro show in June and it was one of the best matches I have ever seen live. This wasn’t as spectacular as their previous encounter, however it was still excellent. (****)
Mount Rushmore 2.0 (Roderick Strong, Super Dragon, & The Young Bucks vs. Fenix, Angelico, The Inner City Machine Guns. – 2.0 over when Strong pinned Swann with the End of Heartache. Another blow-away Mount Rushmore 2.0 multi-man tag match. So many moves, dives and the usual parade of finishers; Roddy got an amazing shine spot and killed all 4 faces with running elbows in the corner then gave Fenix a Superplex onto a pile of bodies on the floor. (****)
BOLA Semi-Final: Jack Evans vs. Chris Hero. – Hero over with a Ripcord Elbow. The quality fell off a little from the previous six matches, but this was by no means a bad match. Story was that Evans kept kicking out of everything Hero hit him with at one, before eventually being overwhelmed and beaten. (*** ¼)
BOLA Semi-Final: “Speedball” Mike Bailey vs. Will Ospreay. – Bailey over with his KO kick after the Double Knee Shooting Star. Ospreay sold his leg the entire match, but Bailey didn’t really work it over, I guess because he is too much of a babyface. (*** ¾)
BOLA Semi-Final: Marty Scurll vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – Sabre over with an Armbar. This was one of my favourite matches of the weekend, mainly because it was amazing to see the hipster Reseda crowd going insane for 1980’s Word of Sports spots. They goofed around a little early on, which was also a staple of the WoS style, and it made sense since the two are team mates in the Leaders of the New School. It may not have had the intensity of the other two Semi-Finals, but this was what pro wrestling is all about: having fun. (**** ½)
5MB (Chuck Taylor, Trent?, Drew Galloway, Aero Star, & Drew Gulak) vs. Tommaso Ciampa, Mark Andrews, Drago, Timothy Thatcher, & Andrew Everett. – 5MB over when the Best Friends pinned Everett & Andrews with the Dudebuster and the Awful Waffle . Typical crazy PWG/Chuck Taylor penis-kicking, super slow-mo Meta spot fest. Really fun stuff. (*** ¾)
2015 Battle of Los Angeles Final: Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. “Speedball” Mike Bailey. – Sabre won the match, the tournament and the trophy in a damn fine three-way. Hero eliminated Bailey with three straight Piledrivers. Sabre & Hero went back and forth with some nice exchanges and submissions. Finish saw Sabre put Hero in the Tequila Sunrise and kick him in the head while the hold was applied, which Bayley & Sasha Banks blatantly stole for their Takeover: Respect match. I may get heat for this, but I wish they would go back to just having a singles match as the final. I know we get more tourney matches with the three-way format, but it is almost impossible for a three-way to be as good as some of the blow-away singles matches throughout the weekend. This year’s final was much better than last year’s, which I found to be somewhat of a disappointment, and all three guys worked their asses off to put on a main event that would live up to the standard of the rest of the weekend. (****)