Rev Pro Road Report: Global Wars 2016 – November 10th & 11th 2016.
I’m probably never going to share in the whole WrestleMania weekend live experience. A chronic fear of flying and crippling anxiety caused by even thinking about stepping on to a plane means that traveling over the Atlantic in a flying tin can is quite simply out of the question. Regrettably, the same goes for the fabled puroresu tours of Japan which sound like an absolute dream come true. This is not in any way an attempt to garner sympathy. I’m fully aware that it is always possible to conquer one’s phobias, no matter how severe, through therapy or counseling. Hell, there’s always the option of scoring some prescribed sedatives from the Doctor or the time-honoured tradition of getting rat-arsed drunk before getting on a plane. Regardless, the point is that for someone like myself who is unable/unwilling to travel across great oceans to attend the annual festival of pro wrestling during the springtime, the joint Rev Pro/New Japan double shot weekends over the last two years have become the equivalent of a Mania weekend or a Japanese puro tour.
There might not be as much going on in terms of show quantity compared to a WrestleMania weekend or a puro tour, but two nights of dream matches between the top British workers and the New Japan talent, plus a meet and greet on both days, more than makes up for that. It also helps that Rev Pro have found a groove of putting on really enjoyable big events with great wrestling and an all-round entertaining product. In fact, in terms of top-notch wrestling and entertainment value, both nights of the Global Wars 2016 weekend were simply in another league to this year’s lackluster WrestleMania show. Keep your million dollar production budget and 80,000 seat stadiums; give me York Hall with 1,200 people on a wet November night any time.
After making plenty of trips from Leeds down to London over the past three years or so, we are getting pretty good at traveling to and from the capital for the big Rev Pro shows. Two and a half hours on the train? No problem. Catching a couple of subway tubes from King’s Cross to Bethnal Green? Easy. Checking in at the same Travelodge hotel on time? Down to the precise minute. We even know the exact time we need to be out of York Hall after the shows to make it to Pizza Hut before it closes at 11pm. By the way, a huge franchise like Pizza Hut closing at 11pm in London of all places is absolutely ludicrous. But that’s a story for another day. Should we live closer to London, or if the cost of travel/accommodation wasn’t so pricey, I have no doubt we would be full-timers at almost every Rev Pro and Progress event. Still, managing to hit three or four of the marquee shows a year is not too bad at all.
The first night of the double-shot weekend – I keep saying “weekend,” however the shows actually took place on a Thursday and Friday – was from the now world-renowned York Hall in Bethnal Green and once again the 87 year-old building was packed out with a rabidly hot crowd. It wasn’t quite a sellout, as there were a few general admission tickets still on sale the day of the show, although there was a strong walk-up on the night. Regardless of a handful of empty seats up in the balcony and slightly less congested standing-room areas than normal, drawing upwards of 1,000 people on a Thursday night is still a great achievement.
Night Two took place at the Walthamstow Assembly Hall, a short train journey away from Bethnal Green. The Assembly Hall was located inside the grounds of the Walthamstow Town Hall, which was surprisingly easy to find for those who had never been there before due to the building’s white concrete structure and inviting fountain outside the venue. A quick scientific assessment of the line outside the hall led me to believe that the crowd was down slightly from the night before, however once inside only a handful of empty seats remained up in the balcony. 700–800 people would be a conservative estimate.
Those of you who have read my previous Rev Pro road reports may recall tales such as receiving a light, safe worker, handshake from Tomohiro Ishii and Hiroyoshi Tenzan doing the old “no speak English” gimmick while at his merch table. The best story though still has to be Jushin Liger running around with a sign trying to encourage fans to buy a Tenzan t-shirt for “£300” then proclaiming that he had “SOLD-OUT!” of his own shirts to tease poor Tenzan. The wackiness didn’t end there however, as Liger ended up pressing himself up against a full-length window like a masked starfish and he proceeded to make snow-angel motions while baffled, non-wrestling fan, members of the public walked by. Sadly, our experience at the meet and greet this time around didn’t produce anything nearly as epic as Starfish Liger, although the great man did manage to provide us with some more t-shirt based comedy.
We got to the meet and greet on Night Two relatively late and were even told by promoter Andy Quildan on the door that we had to be quick in getting our pictures and autographs. Since I had already met most of the New Japan crew over the last couple of years there was only one man that I was determined to get a picture with; Yuji Nagata. At first Nagata was nowhere to be found, however we noticed that while most of the wrestlers were sat in pairs at their gimmick tables, Katsuyori Shibata was all alone at the other end of the hall with an empty chair next to him. That must have been Nagata’s chair, we deduced and headed in that direction. Luckily, we were not left awkwardly standing in front of Shibata for too long, as Will Ospreay showed up and jokingly tried to steal the Rev Pro British championship belt while Shibata was not looking. In a fine display of intercontinental banter, the two had a good laugh then exchanged a few words and a handshake. Nagata appeared while this was going on and we had our pictures taken, plus forked-out an extra £5 for the obligatory signed 8×10.
Since my girlfriend Bev didn’t get a picture with Liger last year, we stopped at his gimmick table for her to correct that wrong. Sitting right next to Liger was Chris Hero, so I took the opportunity to meet legitimately one of my favourite in-ring performers of the last decade. He commented on my Bruiser Brody t-shirt then I noticed he had on an Abdullah the Butcher shirt and I remarked that we were made for each other. Hero agreed and after posing for the picture I complimented him on his awesome match with Ishii the night before. He thanked me and said it was a pleasure as he was just doing what he loved to do.
Before we left I decided to meet Tomoaki Honma and I approached his table to ask for a picture. “No t-shirt?” Honma asked in his demonic growl and I politely declined his offer. There were two stacks of Honmamania t-shirts each about five-high, however one pile appeared to have one less shirt than the other. For all I know Honma could have had sold 50 shirts before we got there, but from the evidence in front of me it certainly appeared like he had sold only one t-shirt. After we had our picture with Honma, Bev pointed out that there was a sign in front of the stack of shirts that read, “Buy t-shirt. Free handshake!” Once again I cannot confirm this is the case, however my experience of Liger the year before trying to shill t-shirts for Tenzan led me to believe that this was his attempt to do the same for Honma. Liger was sat about five feet away from Honma’s table and after we walked away he quickly went over to Honma, presumably to see if he managed to make a sale. The two spoke in Japanese for a while, before Liger erupted into laughter and Honma sheepishly hung his head. Since Liger had been a part of these UK meet and greets before, it would appear that he tried to convince Honma that offering a “Free handshake!” would help boost his gimmick sales. Of course, the rib being that the first thing most fans do when meeting a wrestler is put out their hand for a handshake anyway. There was some good news for Honma later on, as during the show’s intermission I spotted two exceedingly drunk fans come back to their seats wearing Honmamania shirts. They seemed very happy about their purchase and were even doing the Kokeshi head slapping gimmick, so at least Honma could tell that meanie Liger he made a couple more sales.
The shows themselves were both great and featured some excellent wrestling. It’s hard to say whether they topped last year’s events – for me the 2015 Global Wars just edges it in terms of overall show quality and star-power – however the Chris Hero/Tomohiro Ishii match from Night One was arguably better than anything on the two shows twelve months ago. Unsurprisingly, Hero & Ishii beat the living hell out of each other for 14 minutes and delivered the kind of performance that everybody expected when the match was announced. It was the prototypical Ishii match, with stiff strikes, headbutts, Suplexes, Brainbusters and a healthy amount of fighting spirit no-selling. Hero can adapt to any style or any opponent, but against Ishii he played the role that fits him best and handed out a brutal beat-down to his smaller foe. The key spots saw Ishii no-sell two Piledrivers, before eating a big elbow then Hero finally put him away with a Gotch Piledriver. This wasn’t like Road Warrior Hawk no-selling Piledrivers to simply get himself over. Through masterful timing and tremendous facial expressions, Ishii got the entire match over with each strategically no-sold move and elevated the performance to another level as a result. I seem to say this after every big Rev Pro show, but this ranks within the top five matches I have ever seen live and is something everybody should go out of there way to see. (**** ½).
Main event of Night One saw Katsuyori Shibata beat Zack Sabre Jr in 16 minutes after a Sleeper Suplex and the PK to win the Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship. They had some nice grappling exchanges as one would expect. Sabre worked over Shibata’s taped up shoulder and went for a bunch of submissions. Match was solid and they topped their Summer Sizzler outing earlier this year, however it never really shifted into that fifth gear which takes a match over the top. Nobody really expected Shibata to capture the championship so when he won York Hall exploded with genuine surprise and elation. Even if the match didn’t quite reach the heights of Hero/Ishii, the title change helped solidify the show as a special evening that will live long in the memory for those in attendance. (*** ½).
Elsewhere on Night One, Will Ospreay downed Bushi in a fun, fast-paced, affair. Ospreay flew around and hit the Sasuke Special. Bushi cut him off with his hangman Piledriver through the ropes. Referee Chris Roberts took a bump to facilitate Bushi hitting the mist and a low-blow. Ospreay kicked out of a Destroyer, countered the MX and hit the Os Cutter for the win. (*** ¾). Semi-Main event saw LIJ (Tetsuya Naito, Evil & Sanada) over Mustache Mountain (Trent Seven, Tyler Bate & David Starr) in a match that delivered some comedic moments along with some solid action. Mustache Mountain & Starr looked really good and seemed extremely comfortable in there with such high profile opponents. Evil pinned Starr with his STO. (*** ½). Yuji Nagata pinned Pete Dunne with his Backdrop Suplex Hold in a fun match despite a few communication issues. Nagata was super over and seeing his amazing facial expressions live were a beautiful sight to behold. (***). Tomoaki Honma beat Sha Samuels with the Kokeshi Headbutt off the top. Match was much better than it appeared on paper; it was your basic Honma outing with him repeatedly going for Kokeshi, but still fun to experience live. (***). Opener saw Marty Scurll submit Jushin “Thunder” Liger with the Chicken Wing. It was a fun way to start the show, as both guys were over huge and they didn’t have to do a million spots to get a reaction. (***).
Nothing on Night Two could touch the outstanding Hero/Ishii bout, however overall, from top to bottom, the second night of action was probably a better all-round show. The big advantage of Night One was, due to the design of the building, the Walthamstow Assembly Hall could not match the electric atmosphere of York Hall. Main event was probably the best match on the show and it saw Shibata retain the British Championship over Chris Hero in a 13 minute thriller. They started off with some mat-work then Hero took it up a notch by turning it into a strike-battle. Shibata finally had enough of being battered with kicks, punches and elbows then made his comeback. Things really picked up towards the end when Shibata kicked out of the Gotch Piledriver and the last couple of minutes were really great. Shibata got the win with the Sleeper and the PK. (**** ¼). Semi-main had Naito & Sanada over ZSJ & Marty Scurll in a top-notch tag match. Match was laid out really well and the built to the near-falls nicely. Naito pinned ZSJ with the Destino after 19 minutes. Afterwards, Scurll cut a farewell promo and announced he had signed an “exclusive” deal with ROH. He called Sabre into the ring (even calling him by his shoot name, “Luke”) and the Leaders of the New School soaked in the adulation of the live crowd. Ever the heel, Scurll ended up giving Sabre a low-blow and left his best friend lying on the canvas. Even if the two will be spending more time in the US in 2017 it looks like they will at least be back in a Rev Pro ring for a match with each other at some point next year. (****).
Pete Dunne’s second big match of the weekend was against Tomohiro Ishii and Dunne certainly had a better outing than against Nagata the night before. He was in full heel mode and went as far as biting Ishii’s head. Like the Hero match there was a bunch of stiff shots, with Ishii selling forever and occasionally throwing in a perfectly timed no-sell. Ishii no-sold a Superplex then hit Dunne with an even bigger Superplex. Dunne used a low-blow and his wacky Pump-handle Flatliner finish, however Will Ospreay showed up a distracted him. Ishii scored with some elbows and got the win with the Brainbuster. (*** ¾). Rev Pro have booked the Ospreay/Dunne feud really well this year and hopefully the blow-off match takes place at one of the big shows that we attend next year. Will Ospreay downed Jushin “Thunder” Liger in a hoot of a match. Ospreay came out as “Dark Liger” and wore a black mask/outfit reminiscent of Liger’s CTU days. They did a lot of mirror spots and inserted some comedy with the thumb up the ass deal from BOLA this year. Liger no-sold the thumb with his cheeks of steel and referee Chris Roberts ended up with his thumb stuck in Ospreay’s rear for some reason; Liger Suplexed them both with his mighty bottom. Finish saw Ospreay pin Liger with the Shooting Star Press. (*** ½). Yuji Nagata submitted Trent Seven in a very good outing. Nagata seemed to have better chemistry with Seven than he did with Dunne, although Seven has been doing this a little longer than Dunne. Nagata tapped Seven with the Shirome Armbar. Post-match saw Dave Mastiff return to Rev Pro for the first time since 2014 and he took out Seven with a big German Suplex. (*** ¾). Josh Bodom beat Tomoaki Honma in a decent match that will be best remembered for Bodom vomiting all over the canvas after the finish. (** ¾). Opener was the British Tag Team Champions of Joel Redmond & Charlie Garrett over Bushi & Evil via DQ when Bushi used the mist on Garrett. Match was actually quite good until the lame DQ finish. (** ¼).
Who knows how long the working relationship with Rev Pro & New Japan will last. It certainly seems fairly strong at the minute, with Shibata winning the British Championship and taking it over to Japan with him. With New Japan’s ties to ROH & CMLL, there is huge potential for Rev Pro to try and form bonds with the two promotions as well. Promoter Andy Quildan recently facilitated ROH running York Hall in London and with Ospreay & Scurll becoming ROH regulars there is every chance of a working relationship if all sides can come to some sort of agreement. Naturally, this is pro wrestling so nothing is every as simple as it may seem when it comes to inter-promotional cooperation. Regardless, the possibility of a Japan, US, Mexico & UK alliance between NJPW, ROH, CMLL & Rev Pro is absolutely mouth-watering. For the time being though, I’ll be happy with the annual joint Rev Pro/New Japan shows and ROH continuing to send talent over for the big RPW shows. Who knows, maybe one day Kidani will wake up and wonder why his wrestlers are flying over 9,000 miles to work in the UK and pull the plug on the whole operation.
All Photos credit @BevGarth.
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