Pro Wrestling Phoenix presents: WrestleRama Review: Indie Darlings
Our third match had just concluded in dramatic fashion and the house lights returned to the dark, cozy Waiting Room Lounge level. A familiar voice came over the speakers to take us into a brief intermission. Adrenaline running high, I slowly made my way to the bar to order a slightly overpriced Angry Orchard before the bustle of the merch table caught my eye. There I located my host for the evening, Pro Wrestling Phoenix star, Zac James, still showing the effects of his hard won victory over Paul Daniels in the opening Omaha Street Fight. Our eyes met and we exchanged a hardy handshake.
“So man, what do you think so far?” He asked excitedly, a hint of nervousness in his voice.
My nerves shot, and voice hoarse, I forced out the only words that could exit my lips. “This is the most awesome fucking thing I've ever seen...”
For most WWE fans, taking in an independent wrestling show is like watching your favorite tv program in Spanish. Its a completely foreign experience. Gone is the glitz and glamour of a wrestler's entrance. The overblown and bloated production that we, as fans, have grown accustomed to are often traded for a more intimate and gritty experience.
That gritty experience is one that is, unfortunately, rarely experienced by the average fan. Even die hard wrestling fanatics have likely never seen a “true” professional wrestling show. Few are able to experience true wrestling, a combination of sport, fan interaction, and character. I am so thankful that I am among the 100 or so lucky fans who, as of Wednesday, were able to witness the sport being presented in its purest form.
The show truly started the second you walked through the door and were able to appreciate what was accomplished given the area they were given to work in. The decision to book a show at a somewhat space conscience venue was certainly risky, yet, at the same time, obviously the right call . The history and tradition of wrestling stems from cards held in bars, gyms, and legion halls. Hell, even barns and stables have played host to some of the sport's biggest names. The dark main floor and cramped seating at ringside was an awesome experience, and one that certainly heightened my overall enjoyment of the show.
Although a mainstay in the Council Bluffs area, PWP isn't yet a household name on the west side of the bridge. In fact, this was PWP's first show staged outside of the Bluffs. With that pressure came a need to bring a certain level of heightened performance from all involved. From a full suite of entrance music to pre match promos, it was very easy to forget that you weren't watching a Ring of Honor taping.
The lights finally dimmed and our crowd came alive. Having recently attended a WWE Smackdown taping, my expectations for how to act were more akin to a high school basketball game rather than a wrestling show. When you attend a WWE taping, you are instructed to be seated at a certain time and to cheer and holler, but keep it PG. Perhaps due to the setting and the nature of the indie scene, the crowd quickly made themselves a part of the show.
From the opening bell, the audience was unstoppable and ruthless in terms of the jeers and heckling directed at the athletes in the ring. For their part, wrestlers tossed it right back, getting themselves involved in the personal attacks and bad jokes the crowd would lob at them. This type of ring presence and ability to interact with the crowd is a talent even some of the best WWE performers don't posses.
Seemingly every wrestler who performed was gifted in terms of this presence. From the charismatic crowd favorite, Zac James, to the sort of Ted DiBiase-esque ringside manager Axel Greece, the PWP roster and staff all seemed gifted with the ability to work the room and read the audience. This combination of passion and charisma from the talent made certain that there wasn't a dull moment in the two hour show.
“The Passion” Zac James vs Paul Daniels W/ Axel Greece
Our first introduction to the PWP way of business was via “Manager Supreme,” Axel Greece and his “Greece Pit” stable. Describing Greece certainly comes off in a somewhat unflattering fashion. Greece is a short, stocky gentleman who walks with a cane. Dressed in tattered cheap pants, a white wife-beater, gold chains and shutter blind glasses, the pasty white Greece is the perfect heel manager. He thought he and his flunky wrestlers were hot shit, and he was going to tell you all about it.
Zac James and Paul Daniels would go on to compete in an Omaha Street Fight, a staple of modern hard core wrestling. However, there was nothing modern about this match. The fight quickly spilled out of the ring and into the bar area. As the scuffle made its way through the crowd, and mere inches away from my seat, a thought entered my brain... holy shit these guys hit each other really hard.
Not contained to just this match, each strike throughout the night hit with a certain thud that you don't hear on WWE television. This heightened level of physicality made itself apparent as Daniels was busted open early in the match. What began as a slight smear on his face and on the side of a trash can quickly became a flow of crimson down Daniels' face.
James would go on to score the victory, however Greece would manage to steal my heart. He was just so god damned funny. While James took time to bump elbows after the match, and Daniels did his part in working the crowd during, It was Greece at ringside keeping the crowd on its toes and engaged in the match.
“Gucci” Michael Ray vs Joey Daniels W/ Axel Greece
With Greece, whom at this point the crowd had affectionately named “Asshole Grease”, remaining at ringside, we were treated to another fun bout. While “Gucci” Michael Ray was the only gimmick that didn't quite resonate with me as a character, I certainly enjoyed his athleticism and passion in the ring.
Joey Daniels, Like Paul before him, got tons of heat from the audience, mostly in the forms of “Joey's Stupid" chants. For his part, Daniels took plenty of opportunity to play to the crowd. Between the screaming from Greece to Daniels shouting how he wasn't in fact, stupid, the crowd ate up every bit of it.
Ray would score the victory via a rollup pin, however, like the match before it, the excitement in the ring was joined perfectly by the smart use of great heel tactics and a wonderful loud mouth manager. Channeling Xavier Woods, Greece stayed just quiet enough to allow us to focus on the match, but was still so annoying that when Ray won, we all couldn't help but cheer.
Hype Gotti vs Mark Sterling
As the match got underway and Mark entered the ring, skull shaped kettlebell in tow, he did something I found disrespectful... he spit in the ring. I quickly pulled out my notes and jotted something down before shoting something to the effect of, “Don't spit in the ring you pig!”
I had made a grave error.
Mark slammed his kettlebell down in his corner and jammed his finger towards my seat in the front row. “What did you say to me you fucking bitch?” was his reply, his gravely voice cutting through me like a dagger.
I attempted to muster a response but could only manage to stand up and wag my finger at him. The crowd, at this point silent, turned their attention to the ring as he grabbed the ropes and snarled at me. Unfortunately, I couldn't make out the second portion of his threat towards me, but I believe I was told he would “fucking kill me,” I was horrified.
Picture it, if you can, sitting in the front row, and here's a man you know (or at least think) can't physically harm you in any way, but just the sheer presence of his being paralyzes you. Call me a pussy, but I was scared. Legit, honest to goodness nervous after our confrontation. This, friends, is the calling card of a true, gifted professional wrestler.
Not to take anything away from Hype Gotti, or any of the talented men on the roster for that matter... and perhaps its because we shared a bond that Wednesday, but Mark Sterling has everything that one needs to make it as a champion. If PWP ever desired to try their hand at a television program, Sterling, among others, would likely be one of the cornerstones.
Between Gotti's awesome interactions with the crowd and great gimmick of calling out his move set, and Sterling's hauntingly realistic portrayal of a total fucking killing machine, the two would go on to give fans the match of the night. With a title shot looming for Sterling, it'll be interesting to see what the future holds.
Pat Powers Vs “Babyface” Tony Cortez
While hometown hero, and current PWP champion, Tony Cortez clearly had the crowd on his side, Pat Powers began the match by making an impassioned play at our hearts. With the champ having the benefit of notoriety on his side, the patriotic hero and 2016 Presidential candidate treated our crowd to some excellent time on the stick.
Powers displayed great ring presence in working with the crowd, but it would be Cortez who would show us why he's the champ. Cortez had a natural ability to connect with the audience, and was clearly quite gifted in the ring. After nearly ten years with the company, its easy to understand exactly what PWP sees in him as an athlete.
Post match, Cortez took the opportunity to relish in the victory, shaking hands, posing for selfies and the like. The mark of a true champion is his or her ability to please the crowd, maybe by telling them a story and keeping them engaged in his or her work. Cortez clearly possesses great talent, and is an excellent steward of the PWP brand.
Dalton Lee Roth vs L-Ray for the Rising Phoenix Championship
In our only title match of the night, 80s rock god, Dalton Lee Roth would take on current Rising Phoenix Champion and Greece Pit member, L-Ray. The match heralded the return of constant fan favorite, Axel Greece. Alongside him stood Joey Daniels, now sporting an “I'm Not Stupid,” shirt. A wonderful call back to an earlier altercation with the audience.
Roth and Ray treated the audience to a fantastic bout for the the belt, even taking time to continue the theme of the night by interacting with the crowd. While the match was certainly hard hitting and impressive in the ring, it was the gimmicks in and out of the ring that stood out. Between Roth's awesome in ring style and L-Ray's hot shot heel attitude, the mix of characters made for a fun and memorable title bout, even if The Greece Pit got their only win of the night.
Post match, PWP presented a contract signing for the PWP Championship to be decided at PWP's next live show in Council Bluffs Iowa. In true wrestling fashion, things quickly went off the rails. As Mark Sterling and Tony Cortez battled in the ring, a stubborn table became the unintentional star of the segment. Wednesday wasn't a simple wrestling show... Wednesday was a display of uncompromising love and respect for a time honored sport, and that table was the mascot.
“The Official PBR Wrestler” Arik Cannon and Darren “Thunder” Russell vs “The Alliance of Violence” Abu Colossus & Branden Juarez
Given the events preceding it, the main event tag grudge match began with a bit of a chip on its shoulder. Even after nearly two hours of top notch entertainment, the wrestlers were keeping the crowd as engaged and rowdy as they had at the opening bell.
Despite a bit of a sloppy start, and Thunder Russell spending much of the match getting his ass kicked, the four were able to put on a decent, although not show stealing tag match. Much praise must go to the heel team of Abu Colossus and Branden Juarez. Both showed excellent tactics and presence in their decimation of Russel. While the babyface team certainly gave an applause worthy performance, I felt that Colossus's and Juarez's heel tactics and dirty fighting resonated more with me as a fan.
Arik Cannon appeared to enter as a fan darling, which made his relatively short time in the match all the more surprising. To his credit, Cannon's time in the ring made it easy to see why the crowd responded so positively to his presence. His strikes connected with the same level of intensity and ferocity seen all night, and his ring awareness seemed to be top notch as he led his team to victory. Again, it's a shame I wasn't able to become more familiar with his work.
PWP's first venture into the Omaha metro was not only an exciting one, but a successful one. Pro Wrestling Phoenix promised an awesome night of action, and they more than delivered on that promise. From the opening bell to the final pinfall, WrestleRama was far and away the best wrestling I've ever seen.
PWP and company should be proud of what they accomplished Wednesday night. Thanks to a top notch undercard and strong showing from ring veterans, Mark Sterling and Tony Cortez, PWP has laid the groundwork for what will hopefully become a long term presence in the area.
The wrestling may not have always been the cleanest, and the card may not have been the longest, but at the end of the day, the show was just a damn fun time. For myself, as a fan, that was what I was able to take away from the show... the knowledge that I have just seem something truly special, and most importantly, a colossal smile.