Tuesday, February 11, 2014

CZW: 15th Anniversary: A Review (Part 2)

Intermission is one of the most critical times at an independent wrestling show.  At a regular show, the wrestlers will come out, sign autographs, take pictures with people and sell merchandise.  Depending on the size of the show and promotion, there will likely be at least a singular merchandise table and at larger shows, a variety of merchandise tables, as outside vendors set up as well.  This being a larger show, there were a variety of merchandise tables. 

I made my first stop at the Evolve/DGUSA table.  I was interested in some of their DVDs, since the Super Smash Brothers did some work for them in 2012.  Additionally, earlier in the night during my first walkthrough Gabe Sapolsky, the booker for the promotion, who was there selling his wares, let me know he was willing to cut a deal.  I was a fan of Gabe's work in Ring of Honor and was pretty excited about Dragon Gate USA, but have never gotten too deep into their product.  I went to Evolve 5, because it was the last chance to see Bryan Danielson on the East Coast and Evolve 18, because the Super Smash Brothers were wrestling El Generico and Samuray Del Sol and enjoyed both shows.   I also bought tickets to their second show in Philadelphia, but missed most of the show, as I was stuck in a traffic jam for six hours, which was a bit of a bummer since we had pricey first row seats, which were a gift for the best man at my wedding. 

I found three DVDs which I wanted with the Super Smash Brothers on them and tendered a fifty dollar bill for forty dollars worth of wrestling DVDs.  Gabe then offered me two more DVDs from the older stock for $5 a piece.  Not having a good sense of what I wanted, I let Gabe pick two shows he thought would be best to entice me into becoming a Dragon Gate USA fan.  So, I am now the proud owner of Enter the Dragon 2011 and Freedom Fight 2011.  And I get to support a product I probably enjoy, but seldom get to attend, as the shows in the area are usually in New York City and in places which require a car, which is usually two bridges too far for me to want to attend. 

I then moved over to the wrestlers' tables.  I have a fairly large collection of wrestling shirts, almost all of which were purchased directly from a wrestler at a show.  I even own a Kevin Steen shirt which is one size too large, because that was what he brought to Rahway right after Superstorm Sandy and I wanted him to know that I appreciated his work.  I think there is no better way to tell talent to come back then to support them directly like this.  I buy DVDs, because that is the entertainment for me, but I buy shirts from wrestlers like Kevin Steen, Chris Hero, Chuck Taylor and the Super Smash Brothers, because I want them to come back to the Northeast and not take jobs as accountants.

As Candice Larae and Joey Ryan were making a rare East Coast appearance and because Drake Younger was nowhere to be found during intermission, I knew I would break one of my cardinal rules, no white shirts.  But Candice and Joey put out a really great shirt and since I've been a Joey Ryan since the first match I saw him in over six years ago, which was the First and Last Ever PWG Tuxedo Street Fight against Top Gun Talwar, I wanted to show my appreciation for the fine work that Joey and Candice are putting on across the country.  So, I gave Joey Ryan $20, he gave me a shirt and the sense that I was supporting independent wrestling. 

With intermission completed and purchases safely moved to my car and my car safely moved to right in front of the Flyers Skate Zone, I was able to enjoy the second half of the show.  After intermission, there was a four way tag match, which featured a lot of high spots and wrestlers I wasn't familiar with, followed by a tag team championship match, which featured wrestlers I was familiar with and aside from John Silver, who put on an excellent hard hitting performance, there was nothing of note to me. 

But now, we hit the home stretch.  The four-way number one contenders match, with Drake Younger, AR Fox, Chris Dickinson and Black Jeez was excellent and certainly the match of the night.  Since El Generico returned to his orphanage in Mexico, no one has been better at being a babyface than Drake Younger.  He is just so believable and full of excitement, you just want to scream DRAKE at the top of your lungs and watch him win.  And no one sells better than AR Fox, just watching him take a cutter and backflipping through is an amazing work of art.  Chris Dickinson, whom I'd heard good things about also put on a great match.  We won't talk about my thoughts on Black Jeez, but at least he didn't take anything away from the match.  There were just the right amount of big spots and everyone got in good work, before AR Fox beat Drake Younger, which made a lot of sense considering AR Fox is an East Coast wrestler and Drake Younger is a West Coast wrestler.

Finally, we reached the initial main event, which pitted CZW Champion Drew Gulak versus former TNA star and independent glory boy AJ Styles.  To be honest, I never gave AJ Styles wrestling much thought before Saturday night and certainly did not buy a ticket to see him live.  The week prior, I saw Drew Gulak wrestle Colt Cabana and thought Drew was a good hand, but nothing worth writing about. 

Most reviews of the match were very positive, which led me to believe two things.  One, no one wants to say anything bad about AJ Styles during his homecoming tour.  Two, everyone else was watching a very different match than I was.  I suspect it was the former. 

The match started slow, which can be fine, but the main event at a CZW show probably should incorporate more than headlocks in the first five minutes.  I think the pacing of the match might have worked if we were in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1975, but the match suffered even beyond that.  Both wrestlers employ something of an old-time Southern style, which I usually enjoy, but not after a big, hard-hitting match full of highspots.  Also, if you do a Southern-style match, you need to employ more story telling and not just moving from move to move at a slower pace.  After a quick tour of the arena, which is always overrated, a series of back and forth exchanges and one of the least authentic valet/manager hitting the famous wrestler with the belt, who could neither lose clean nor win the title, the match was thankfully over.  Seriously, nothing I saw on Saturday night would ever convince me I wanted to pay to see AJ Styles wrestle, as the match was slow and he really lacked the physical charisma to convince me that he was telling a good story. 

Finally, it was Deathmatch time, since after the bad taste of the original main event, people wanted blood.  Danny Havoc comes out to a ring filled with weapons, like a chair, a chair wrapped in barbed wire, a garbage can, a crutch, all tools we became familiar with watching ECW back in the 1990s.  He cuts a promo designed to introduce his opponent and the entire time I was just standing there in my heart, screaming, "Anyone but Drake."  Sadly, as much as I like Drake Younger, he came out to the ring to have what could thankfully be considered a hardcore match.

I was actually saddened when Drake came to the ring.  Deathmatches are the wrestling equivalent of pornography.  Limited story telling, lots of action and plenty of things you don't need to see.  To be honest, they really are not my thing, as I never want to see someone take a stapler to another man and use it on him to inflict pain.  Or rip open another person's skin and flesh with barbed wire.  It doesn't appeal to me.  A hardcore match, which is not nearly as barbaric, can work in the right environment, but a deathmatch, which CZW is famous for, and which Drake Younger swore off in the last year or so, was exactly what I didn't want to see. 

Fortunately, two things happened.  One, the actual violence was toned down considerably.  Even the barbed wire chair wasn't wielded, but instead Danny Havoc went head first into it once and really didn't bleed.  The unprotected shots to the head were a bit much, but again, it was Drake delivering and Danny taking them, whether it be by chair or garbage can lid.  Drake took some bumps, which were hard to watch in person and finally lost the match, but it was still enjoyable and I really appreciated it didn't go too far, since I think babyface Drake Younger is one of the best wrestlers around today, while King of the Deathmatch Drake Younger does not hold the same appeal. 

In all, it was a good show and I would recommend the DVD or iPPV to anyone who likes wrestling.  The show was also good enough for me to ensure I check the next CZW card to see if it is worth going to, though not quite strong enough to make CZW a must to my wrestling rotation.  That being said, I was quite happy to be part of their 15th anniversary show, as it shows an ability and dedication to survive in a difficult business. 

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