With five shows down and eight still to come, I felt it was time to check in on the FGB with some thoughts on my “Epic ProWres Voyage 2013”. For those not aware, which is probably most of you reading, I am currently embarking on a 13 show wrestling viewing tour spanning five weeks and three countries. It wasn’t my intention to do something like this, things just kinda fell into place this way and when they did I asked myself if I was insane enough to take on such a schedule and the answer was a definitive YES!
First up I boarded a lovely Aer Lingus plane and made my way to not-so-scenic Oberhausen, Germany to take in the greatness of Europe’s most presitigious wrestling tournament, the 16 Carat Gold presented by wXw Germany. I had been to Carat in 2009 and 2011 and had witnessed some incredible stuff with some of the best performers in the world. So I knew what I had to expect this year, and I got it in abundance. The three day event, attended by arguably the most enthusiastic fans in the world, was off the charts. There was one great bout after another all capped off by the tournament final on Night Three between Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Zack Sabre Jr. and Holland’s Tommy End. It was a magical match that I consider among the three best I’ve ever seen live. If you’re into star ratings, I didn’t bat an eyelid giving this five stars and it’s definitely my working Match Of The Year.
Some of the other talent that shined included Super Crazy (who gave us an insane balcony moonsault which I’ll never forget), Ricky Marvin, Yuji Okabayashi, Ricochet, Johnny Moss, Shinobu, Chuck Taylor, Big Van Walter and the man who many felt stole the weekend, Jonathan Gresham. The former CZW and Chikara grappler, trained by Mr Hughes, has spent the last year and a half living in Europe and working everywhere. He is perhaps wrestling’s best kept secret and may be in the top 10 most skilled wrestlers in the world. Gresham was in three great matches, all of which were different and all of which showcased his array of talents as a performer. The highlight of his weekend amidst several standing ovations was the monster pop heard around Oberhausen when he got Big Van Walter over for a gigantic Everest Style German Suplex AND held the bridge. Gresham gave an emotional speech at the end of his weekend as this would be his final wXw appearance for some time with Japan and the Zero 1 promotion set to be his home going forward.
16 Carat weekend gives the fans much more than just great action though. There was also a fans vs. wXw soccer match (in which the luchadors stole the show), Q&A’s, press conference, open workouts and much more. I even got to eat McDonalds with the Big Japan guys (and girl in referee Yuki Lee) and witness them break into slap fight while standing in line! Strong Style to the end! By the weekend’s climax I was too excited to be tired. Three days after returning home however, when the thought of another trip to the airport was in my near future (as in about 6 hours away), that energy was but a distant memory.
I’ve been to England many times for shows. London, Liverpool, Newcastle, Cambridge, Birmingham – all very well known areas. Swindon and Chipping Sodbury, however, were not exactly on my radar as places I’d be travelling to for live wrestling. Particularly live wrestling that would house Kenny Omega and Fujita Jr. Hayato, two big stars of the Japanese scene. When I saw that 4FW (4 Front Wrestling) would be bringing these guys in and having them go one on one with Zack (coming off his MOTYC in Germany), I knew I had to be there. So I packed my bags once again and found myself in lovely Chipping Sodbury, a town that actually made you feel like you had been teleported to 1965. But boy was it charming – I don’t think there was more than one chain store in the whole town.
I was so impressed by 4FW. They were very professionally run, ambitious and really good to their fans. The shows were both really enjoyable, and as great as it was to see Hayato and Kenny live (it was REALLY great), I was just as excited about seeing how much potential there was amongst the young UK talent on display. Mark Andrews, Wild Boar, Owen Phoenix, Pete Dunne and several others all really impressed me and further cemented in my mind just how strong the UK scene is right now. If that’s the future, then I also got a sample of the past in the form of one fan who would have fit right in on any 80’s World Of Sport show. “Crazy Eli” as I was informed he’s known as, is an elderly fan decked out in giant pin badges and a whacky hat who, if he doesn’t think wrestling is a legit contest, he certainly put on an award winning acting performance making us think he did. He was a heels dream, and at one point he took out his false teeth and taunted heel manager Gilligan Gordan with them face to face.
From an in-ring point of view, the weekend’s highlight was the Zack vs. Hayato match on Night 2. It was a cracking contest which blended striking, submissions, and hold for hold grappling as well as any match I’ve ever seen live. Hayato is a training partner of Kid Yamamoto and he looks every bit the part doing this style. Zack is a kid who grew up idolising the purveyors of shoot style from a far, ordering tapes of New Japan, BattlARTS and UWFI whenever he could. But he’s not a wannabe by any means. He got his initial training with NWA:UK Hammerlock (known for it’s technical wrestling drills) and now spends several months of the year in the NOAH dojo in Japan. He’s as good as anyone when it comes to this and he got to showcase it here. I had the privilage of spending alot of time with Kenny and Hayato over the weekend and even got to record a 30 minute video interview with Hayato which you can see below. That will be hard to top as one of the highlights of this voyage.
In ten days I’ll be packing a much bigger bag and getting set for a much bigger trip. I head to New York City for the first time in my life and I’ll be seeing ROH, EVOLVE, DGUSA (twice), Chikara, $5 Wrestling, WrestleMania and Raw! So I’ll be back to check in with FGB very soon!