Monday, February 10, 2014

CZW 15th Anniversary: A Review (Part 1)

Sadly, dear reader, I happen to be a huge wrestling fan (not literally, as I am of more an average size), but I enjoy the artistic endeavor that is professional wrestling.  While I freely admit I watch the WWE product, my heart has belonged to independent wrestling since 2007, when I went to my first Ring of Honor show. 

On Saturday, I convinced myself to go to a CZW show for the second time in my life.  I went to an event called Cage of Death in 2012, since Cage of Death is an experience that each independent wrestling fan should experience at least once in their lives, though I would strongly recommend general admission, rather than front row seating, because I am not a big fan of picking light tubes out of my hair before driving home. 

To start, fifteen years for an independent wrestling organization is an impressive streak and something to be commended.  CZW is generally not my cup of tea, but they have definitely moved their product away from some of the worst aspects of death match wrestling and towards a more hardcore, but tasteful product aside from a few shows designed to cater to that crowd.  However, I saw that Joey Ryan and Candice LaRae, who are two of my favorite wrestlers from the West Coast were going to have matches at the show, along with the Golden Boy Drake Younger, who is a former CZW legend and nowadays the best babyface on the independent scene.  Once I saw the three of them were going to be at an anniversary show, I eagerly bought my ticket, unlike the real draw, which was a match by AJ Styles, which I will discuss below, but in no way encouraged me to attend. 

So, I arrive early and fight the parking situation, which is really the only drawback of going to a big CZW show, before yielding and parking across the way.  I finally find the line, which contained no less than 1,000 and probably closer to 1,200 people, which is a really impressive crowd for an independent wrestling show.  However, the line snakes around a hockey rink, with a game between the junior Flyers and junior Devils, which the junior Devils won 6 to 4.  I watched the game, not because of my interest in junior hockey, but in my interest in self-preservation, as I would prefer not to be brained by a stray puck flying through the netting.  Most of the fans for the show watched as well, making it quite likely the most well-attended junior hockey game in American history.  There were a few calls for fights, as you would expect from wrestling fans watching junior hockey waiting for violence, but nothing out of the ordinary. 

Finally, after about 45 minutes of waiting, the line starts to move.  A few gentlemen who brought their own title belts from their homes, which does not make them champions, but spectators with an overinflated ego.  Though I do have a softspot for the fifty year old thinly built African American fellow who dresses like Hulk Hogan, down to the long blond hair in a wig, with his own title belt.  The line moves slow and as the game finished, free skate begins.  The guys behind me were very interested in free skate, because they really enjoyed watching people, mostly children under the age of 14 eat the ice.  It happened a few times, but not nearly as many as you would expect from a group of skaters wondering why 1,000, mostly 20 to 40 year old men, were watching them skate, but that is the life of an independent wrestling fan.

Finally, I manage to get inside just before the opening match and move to the Highspots merchandise table.  For reasons I won't get into, I had not pre-ordered All Star Weekend 10 from Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, but was aware the DVDs were released on Friday by Highspots.  I prefer to purchase them directly from PWG, since they get the full effect of the sale, as buying wrestling DVDs from an independent promotion is like buying local.  It takes a lot to run a show and buying direct from the company helps their bottom line and keeps the viable.  But, I'm a selfish pig who wanted to see the best wrestling around and bought them right away. 

After finishing a quick walkthrough, the matches start.  The first few matches were fine, mostly CZW regulars whom I was generally acquainted.  There was a segment with Tommy Dreamer, who is best known for his work with the seminal wrestling organization ECW in the 1990s, which had a tremendous impact on wrestling from a Bingo Hall in South Philadelphia, which I've been fortunate enough to visit during its heyday.  He put over a special main event, which is code for "You won't like AJ Styles versus Drew Gulak and the company needs to make good to make sure people come back."  Also, there was a great Charlie Brown chant for the owner, based on his looking like Charlie Brown, wearing his brown, big boy suit that Tommy got going. 

And that's part of the performance art.  The fans aren't just there to enjoy the show, but you also participate in the theatre with your cheers, your boos and your insane chants, which at times are known to go too far.  But that's wrestling for you.

Finally, the first match I wanted to see and the match I was most excited for that night started, Joey Ryan versus Greg Excellent.  Joey Ryan's gimmick is that of a sleazy Californian with a great tan and hair, a fine mustache and chest hair.  His gimmick resonates in his wrestling, which can either be very serious and technical or playful and comedic, depending on the opponent.  As he was facing, Greg Excellent, a heavy set fellow in a single with his name written like the Mountain Dew logo, poured a box of cereal on himself and entered the ring, comedy was in the cards.

The match was everything I hoped it would be.  Joey Ryan started the match with a lollipop in his mouth.  The lollipop was passed back and forth during a series of headlocks, which while totally unhygenic, was also hysterical.  Then during the first break in action, Joey Ryan proceeded to take the lollipop, rub it all over his body, shove it down his pants, then into Greg Excellent's mouth.  Writing the last sentence, I'm not sure I should have enjoyed this at all, but the action was just the right amount of juvenile to be hysterical without feeling obscene.  Of course, to take the action further, Greg enjoyed the lollipop, shoved it down his own singlet, may or may not have intimated he was touching himself while doing so, then shoved it into Joey's mouth, since you always need the good guy to come out on top.  The match continued at a regular pace after this point, with Joey using his patented Boobplex, usually reserved for wrestling women, on the ample Greg Excellent to great effect and pop from the crowd, before local hero Greg Excellent went over him for the victory in a highly entertaining match. 

There was a quick match for the CZW Wired title that I have nothing of value to talk about, which was followed by Candice Larae wrestling Kimber Lee.  Candice is a staple for PWG and usually wrestles men in PWG, generally as part of a tag team.  Normally, I would have misgivings about a man wrestling a woman, but PWG has the right atmosphere and booking to take advantage of the comedic potential of a man wrestling a woman, while still making Candice feel like a credible contender.  Unlike Joey Ryan, who I'd seen wrestle a few times for Ring of Honor live on the East Coast or Drake Younger, who I saw at my one Cage of Death appearance, which was a real draw for me to go to that show in all honesty, I had never seen Candice wrestle live, usually, because I don't watch women's wrestling. 

The bias stems from watching wrestling for 30 years and growing up, women generally didn't wrestle that often and when they did, the workrate was pretty abysmal for most of them and to this date, remains a big problem in women's wrestling in the WWE, which I think Sara Del Rey as a new trainer is working hard to fix.  I had seen Kimber Lee wrestle a few times for a local promotion and thought she was a good worker and expected a good match.  To be honest, it was almost certainly the best women's wrestling match I've seen live not involving Awesome Kong and Sara Del Rey.  The action was crisp and lively, the spots were strong and I did see Candice perform a modified version of the Ballplex, which is exactly the suplex you think it is on Kimber Lee two times in a row, which I would lovingly call the Boxplex.  Of course, by doing so, any feminist credibility I could ever have went rolling out the window, but really, no other word you could create in wrestling language would give justice to the move dished out at this point. 

At this point, we reached intermission, which is where I will leave this story until tomorrow, where we can discuss respecting the business, why I buy merchandise, Drake Younger and the awful AJ Styles/Drew Gulak match, which was not nearly as panned by others as I will pan it tomorrow. 

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