Monday, 21 October 2013

RPW Uprising 2013 review

In 2002 the Frontier Wrestling Alliance promoted a show called British Uprising. It was a massive success, for a number of reasons. First and foremost British wrestling fans, with only WWE’s new and mishandled Brand Extension on offer, were on the hunt for something to replace the void left by ECW and the Attitude Era (and possibly, to a far lesser extent, WCW). The FWA came along at just the right time to capitalise on that. A second reason for success was the canny use of foreign stars. Balls Mahoney and Jerry Lynn may not seem like the biggest names in wrestling now, but they were good choices at the time. Far more noteworthy was a young AJ Styles, who then seemed like he was on course to become one of the biggest stars in all of wrestling, as opposed to the biggest star in a wildly floundering promotion ten years later.

A third reason for the show’s success was a non-FWA show (later lumped in with genuine FWA shows) that had aired on Bravo the month before. The show aired at a reasonable time of day and produced decent viewing figures, thanks in large part to the involvement of Eddie Guerrero. It proved there was an audience for a homegrown product in Britain. It just had to be packaged in a suitable way and feature one or two wrestlers people had heard of.

The FWA used the success of British Uprising to turn themselves into the face of British wrestling for the next couple of years. They ran shows throughout the country, including more at York Hall, always ensuring they presented a card that catered to all tastes and featured foreign stars to attract an audience. One of these shows was British Uprising 2, which featured the European debut of both CM Punk and Colt Cabana.

By British Uprising 3 the FWA was falling from glory. They’d overstretched themselves and lost a lot of momentum, mainly due to other promotions emulating their approach of smattering cards with foreign talent to attract and audience. The third British Uprising was a great effort but it was the last hurrah for the FWA. It soldiered on for a while long before closing down, later starting back up again, but nothing produced under the initials since BU3 has been a must-see event.

In the nine years since that show the British wrestling scene has continued to evolve. The internet has made it far easier to follow than it was even at the FWA’s peak, and fans in general have become more discerning about what they look for in a wrestling show. Balls Mahoney and his modern day equivalents no longer cut it. Fans these days want (and are fully entitled to expect) shows featuring talented, hardworking guys who want to put on the best matches possible. Nostalgia is out, quality wrestling is in.

All of which brings me to Uprising 2013. It was produced by Revolution Pro Wrestling as opposed to the Frontier Wrestling Alliance, but the intention was clearly to evoke memories of the FWA’s original run of events. Uprising 2013 was held at the same venue, in the same month, and used the same formula of bringing in foreign stars to attract an audience. The idea of a modern company wanting to encourage comparisons to the FWA is questionable considering Frontier’s fall from grace, but targeting the Uprising name in particular is smart. The British Uprising cards were considered the zenith of what the FWA achieved and are still held in high regard.

I and my That Wrestling Podcast co-host, Michael King, bought tickets to Uprising 2013 based on the names announced for the show. Topping the bill was Hiroshi Tanahashi. That alone was extraordinary: that the biggest and best name in Japanese wrestling had agreed to appear at a venue in the East End of London that can hold around one thousand people fascinated both of us. The Prince Devitt v Ricochet match was also something that swayed me (although Michael avoided reading the full announced card and so didn’t know the match would be happening: he was unaware of who Ricochet was anyway).

Our seats weren’t the best, probably a result of waiting until not too long before the show to buy them. They had my name printed on them though, so that was a bonus. You’re not getting that sort of treatment at WWE house shows.
 
The opening match was a Brits only affair. The Swords of Essex teamed with Project Ego to take on the London Riots, Fake El Ligero and former TNA Superstar Mark Haskins. Of the eight men involved I’d heard of three: Project Ego’s Kris Travis and Martin Kirby and Mark Haskins. I’d come across El Ligero before but was utterly nonplussed by the fake variant we were presented with. No context was given but I think it’s pretty safe to assume the idea is that he’s stolen Ligero’s identity and a Real v Fake match is being built to. If that’s the case then I approve.

The match was a very effective opener. People more familiar with the Rev Pro setup than Michael and I were solidly behind Project Ego and solidly against the Riots and their partners. In a way I found that confusing: surely London is the one place the London Riots should be greeted as babyfaces?

The number of guys involved ensured a fast pace with lots going on, which is ideal for a first match. The babyface union won when one of the Swords (I can only apologise for not knowing which) hit a shooting star press on Haskins. After the match the heels bickered over their loss on the entrance ramp.

Match two featured Michael Elgin taking on the highly regarded Noam Dar. That may strike you as a peculiar match up, and that’s because it was: Dar was a replacement for the originally announced Dave Mastiff. The bout wasn’t bad, Elgin made sure to include his stalling vertical suplex and deadlift middle rope suplex to ensure nobody felt cheated by his performance, but I was disappointed Mastiff wasn’t involved. I’m a big fan of his work and thought that a match between him and Elgin would be great.

Elgin’s knack of constructing blistering finishing sequences failed him a tad here. The finish was by no means bad but it wasn’t the several minute affair we get in his bigger matches in ROH. Perhaps that was because of Dar being a last minute replacement. ‘Unbreakable’ went over following a bicycle kick, an elbow to the back of the head, a spinning back fist, a buckle bomb and an Elgin bomb. That it took that series to put Dar down certainly kept him looking competitive in defeat. That’s the right way for an outside star to beat a regular.

That was followed by Sha Samuels taking on Doug Williams. Sha’s gimmick is tremendous. He has the London Underground logo on his trunks, wears a Dennis the Menace scarf to the ring, and is announced as hailing from nowhere more specific than “East London”. As with the London Riots that should have made him a face in my book, but the more experienced fans in the crowd seemed happy to boo him.
 
A (poor) picture of Sha Samuels

For a Williams match this involved a surprising amount of ringside brawling, including the first kick of the night that was so hard it caused the lighting rig set up around the ring to shift. Sha led proceedings when they tumbled out of the ring while Doug took control with traditional British wrestling back between the ropes. It was all very enjoyable even if it did last perhaps a couple of minutes too long. Sha went over with a low blow and a Mick Foley-esque stump-puller piledriver. It was the right result: Doug doesn’t need to win to be over with British fans.

The last match before the intermission was Ricochet versus Prince Devitt. It was the ideal spot for them: they produced such an incredible match that nobody would have been able to follow them immediately. The audience needed some time to cool off so that the rest of the show could be fully appreciated.
 
A charming shot of the back of Ricochet's head

The two constructed what was easily the match of the night. It was stuffed with high-flying and flashy spots. A particularly memorable moment spot was Ricochet’s springboard 450 splash to the floor, which saw him land on his feet and immediately pose. It was from there that Devitt started playing a heel, although the crowd was so appreciative of the talent of both men that he never really heard boos for long.

Eventually Devitt got the win, retaining his undisputed British cruiserweight championship after avoiding a 630 splash and hitting a top rope double stomp followed by Bloody Sunday. It was the match of the night and should ensure that the DVD is a hot seller.

The intermission gave me a glimpse of a guy in an nWo T-shirt (there’s always one) and various wrestlers walking passed us on their way to the merch stand. Naturally Cabana was amongst them. If there’s one thing that guy knows (besides wrestling) it’s merch. It also featured the announcement that Ric Flair will be present for RPW’s return to York Hall in March.

The beginning of the second half is as good a time as any to mention the ring announcer for the evening. He was comically bad. Tasked with the thankless task of trying to keep the audience enthused during matches he made a hard job worse by being repetitive, over-hyping everything, mumbling (though only once or twice), and being repetitive. Had he played up to these things he’d have been a great character. Unfortunately it all stemmed from his general ineptitude. Nobody else seemed to care though, and we found it amusing, so no harm done.

The first match of the second half saw Zack Sabre Jr (who has some incredible techno entrance music) take on Davey Richards. This was a personal highlight for me as it gave me the chance to heckle Davey with cries such as “You’re a nippy little weasel!” and “Prestige!”, as well as numerous boos. I’d like to make it clear that I think Richards is a good wrestler but I’ve never been able to get passed him taking himself far too seriously (even by ROH standards) during his ROH world title reign. He, like John Cena, is someone I feel I have to heckle. It doesn’t reflect on them as people, just them as a wrestling persona.

The match was dead for the first half. The crowd seemed keen to back Sabre Jr which should have encouraged Davey to play heel. He teased it a couple of times, most notably when he refused to perform his Rick Rude style gyrations, but he never went all the way with it. Had he done so the crowd would have been drawn into the match and it would have been a more entertaining affair. I suspect part of the problem is that Richards is not especially adept at reading crowds. Or perhaps he was simply unwilling to play the bad guy because he’d been told it as to be face versus face.

Things picked up considerably in the last five minutes. The pace went from methodical to lightning quick as the two exchanged signature spots, near falls and submission holds. I was surprised when it finished with Richards tapping out to an arm bar. That’s not something you see often from ‘The American Wolf’.

The evening’s penultimate match was prefaced by a pre-match promo from ├╝ber heel Andy Boy Simmonz (formerly the Duke of Danger’s butler Simmons). He mentioned that Davey Boy Smith’s daughter, Georgia, was in the crowd and “reminded” us that he’d beaten her brother back in the summer. He invited her into the ring so he could do the same to her.
 
The posture of a heel

Simmonz’ tirade was interrupted by Grado, a cross between Santino Marella and the Crankies (Google them). After dancing to the ring to Madonna’s Like A Prayer he got assaulted by Simmonz and Rampage Brown. Naturally his tag partner for the evening Colt Cabana dashed out (after a suitably suspenseful delay) to make the save, kicking off the evening’s dose of comedy. This included an assisted walk-walking spot from Grado and several minutes of backside slapping. Neither outdid Grado’s simple comment of “You’re a very good referee” to the ref.

It was a good match, although as with Williams v Samuels it may have gone on for a minute or three too long. Grado was kept isolated in order to set up a burning hot tag to Cabana. The faces seemed on track to winning until Simmonz hit Cabana with Cabana’s British heavyweight title belt which allowed Rampage to haul Cabana up for a piledriver and the three count. No that move’s not banned in Revolution Pro.
 
They may have lost but Grado still seems happy enough

After that we got a Bret Hart promo. It was about as good as you’d expect. Bret reminisced about “all the incredible matches” he’d had in Britain (without actually specifying any) and informed us that we’re amongst the best fans in the world. The standard stuff you get in these situations really. After repeating himself a few times Hart finally mentioned his match at Wembley with The British Bulldog (which I’d expected him to open with) and put over the locker room as the future of the business. No, he didn’t call them the present. That was telling. He finished by putting over IPW. No idea who they are: this was an RPW show.

‘The Hitman’ stayed down at ringside for the main event, which pit “the star of ITV’s Take Me Out” Marty Scurll against New Japan’s top worker Hiroshi Tanahashi. Paddy’s pal got a ton of heat as he swaggered out to the ring while Tanahashi and his air guitar were met with almost deafening cheers and a chant of “Best in the world!” That’s certainly an arguable moniker, but I don’t think there can ever be a clear “best” in wrestling.
 
Hiroshi Tanahashi, making an appearance in, of all places, Bethnal Green!

The match was a little slow to get going thanks to ‘Party’ Marty’s incessant heat seeking but once it was under way it was very good. There were one or two awkward moments stemming from miscommunications but that’s to be expected when two guys without a language in common face each other in a lengthy match. For the most part their exchanges were slick and engaging.

Tanahashi went over with the High Fly Flow at around the twenty minute mark. Following the match Bret Hart entered the ring to raise the victor’s hand only to be confronted by an angry Scurll. The heel got decked and slapped in the Sharpshooter, a move he’d applied to Tanahashi as a way of taunting Hart during the match. Hart raised Tanahashi’s hand again before leaving the New Japan ace to pose in the ring to end the show.

The show was a very enjoyable experience. There wasn’t a single duff match, every wrestler seeming pleased to be there and intent on giving the best performance possible. The crowd deserve credit too: they were hot all night and improved the show as a result. This, as with most indy shows I’ve been to, was far better than any WWE house show, and cost a fraction of the price. Based on Uprising I’d recommend a Revolution Pro show to anyone considering going to one.

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