Wednesday 21 January 2015

WWN Live in Beijing review

The reported attendance for the final night of the WWN’s tour of China was 10,500.Even if that was inflated (and this is wrestling so there’s a very good chance it was) that’s a far cry from the average turn out for an EVOLVE, Shine or FIP card. Even on WrestleMania weekends the company comes nowhere close to attracting even half of that number. So in terms of opening up a fresh market and getting a good attendance number the WWN tour’s final offering was a success.

Pleasingly it was also a success in the ring. The show kicked off with new FIP champion Rich Swann defending against his buddy AR Fox. Well, it kicked off with that after the ridiculously long entrances were done and dusted. Even Fox seemed to get a lengthier entrance than usual. The show had fifteen minutes on the clock before the two even locked up.

Swann got in the first major move when he turned Fox upside down with a drop kick. The challenger came back with a springboard drop kick to Swann and followed up with a nice tope and a split-legged senton. Swann fought out of a sleeper (hey, it was a pacey exchange and they needed a breather) only to be floored with a cross between a Flatliner and a DDT that Fox should think about introducing as a regular move. It was far more impressive than Low Mein Pain.

Fox leapt to the top rope to try something but ended up taking a hurricanrana from the champ. After a brief exchange of right hands Swann scored with an scissor kick and a rolling senton. Fox came back with the twirling brainbuster. Swann got a Lethal Injection and went for a frog splash. Fox rolled out of the way and clambered to the top rope to go for a Swanton bomb. That was also avoided and Swann took another stab at hitting his frog splash. It worked out better for him on the second attempt: he connected and got the three count for his first successful FIP title defence.

As Swann and Fox posed together they were attacked by the Bravado brothers. They gave Fox a Gentlemen's Agreement and did some posing of their own before Johnny Gargano turned up to chase them off. He shook hands with Fox and shared a little nod of respect with Swann before being thanked for his help by Lacey and the Chinese host. Gargano told them the Bravados were jerks (strong words, right?) and said that he’d “had” to help. More importantly he said he was focused on winning the Open the Freedom Gate title in the main event (as well as the infinitely less important Beijing Cup).

Match number two pitted Valkyrie teammates Su Yung and Allysin Kay against each other. Being the smaller, and therefore more sympathetic, of the pair Su Yung played the valiant underdog babyface while Kay played the bullying heel.

Yung ducked in and out of the ring at the start of the match but was caught soon enough. Kay then spent the majority of the match very convincingly pulverising her. In the closing moments Su began getting her act together but was haulted when Kay suffered an eye injury. That turned out to be a swerve when Kay got her in a schoolboy rollup to win.

Jody Kristofferson v Chuck Taylor came next. It was another loss for Kristofferson, again by count out. Despite the losses he suffered on every one of the supershows I enjoyed Kristofferson's work. And he was portrayed as someone who could handle some of EVOLVE's bigger names but who wasn't experienced enough get the win over them. I’d like to see more of him on EVOLVE cards. For the record Earl Cooter took another pasting after the match.

In an odd move Biff Busick and Timothy Thatcher faced off again. They'd last done so four nights earlier on the Chengdu show. In theory there's nothing wrong with the two facing off twice on the same tour but it did feel a little off. I think it’s because there were no other repeat matches.

As was the case in Chengdu they didn't get the length of time I'd expected. They did put on another very good match though. And it was notably different to their previous encounters, with the top rope being used and the two men swapping around the body parts they were concentrating on. Busick ended up tapping to Thatcher's armbar. They shook hands after the match.

Ivelisse Velez's Shine championship defence against Mia Yim followed that. After a feeling out process in which the two swapped the advantage and showed how evenly matched they were the challenger got the first big move with a top rope arm drag. Velez responded with a super kick, a top rope hurricanrana, a kick to the face from the apron and a tornado DDT.

Yim got in some kicks and applied a leg lock. Velez reversed into an Indian death lock and then a Haas of Pain (which was nice to see). She released that quickly, creating a moment that would have benefited from a commentator acknowledging how tough the hold is to keep applied.

After taking an Exploder suplex Yim German suplexed Velez into a turnbuckle and then applied a bow and arrow. That too was released fairly quickly, with Velez taking the opportunity to catch Yim in The Undertaker’s version of the gogoplata. Yim gradually worked her way up to her feet before ramming the champion into a buckle.

They exchanged chops and then got roundhouses at the same time. Back on their feet Velez bulldogged Yim before Yim recovered and knocked her down with kicks to the face and a drop kick. Velez managed to throw her out of the ring and hit a hurricanrana from the apron. When made it back into the ring she was immediately hit with a spinning instep kick for two.

When Velez went to the top Yim cut her off, back dropping her to the mat and scoring an iffy-looking 450 (which hit Velez’s knees and was sold as though it had been a lot more impactful) for a two count. Velez escaped the package piledriver and got in some slaps. An attempted top rope move from Velez backfired when Yim grabbed her and successfully hit the package piledriver to win the Shine championship.

Fittingly this was the best women's match of the tour. The audience seemed to enjoy it well enough but Velez and Yim still deserved more from them. After the match the two shook hands and hugged. A bit of bad grace surfaced in the former champ when she tried grabbing the title belt and leaving with it. Yim told Lacey and the Serious Chinese Host that it was special to be champion. She said she'd be back (presumably in China) to defend the gold.

The penultimate match of the night saw the Bravado brothers and The Colony challenging the Premier Athlete Brand for the Open the United Gate championships in a three-way elimination match. It was a natural tag match to end on as both challenging teams had had title shots on previous shows, but it did slightly devalue the belts to be defended against the same assortment of guys across four shows.

The first fall was fought between The Colony and the Bravado boys. Fire Ant hit a crisp tilt-a-whirl headscissors and a a tornado DDT on Harlem and both Ants got suicide dives but it wasn’t enough to get them the first pinfall. Harlem caught Fire Ant on the top rope and gave him a sit out power bomb. That was followed by Gentlemen's Agreement to send The Colony backstage.

As they had two nights earlier The Brand played the faces opposite the challengers. After an initial flurry Barreta was isolated and worked over with such villainous moves as back rakes, rope chokes, and the dreaded Bandwagon double elbow. He once again impressed with his ability to sell convincingly.

After a blown spot where the referee forgot he was meant to be distracted by Konley to allow the Bravados to drag Barreta back to their corner Konley tagged in. He got a solid reaction from the crowd as he fired through the heels. The four repeated their spot from a few nights earlier with the Bravados double suplexing Konley and Barreta slipping in at the last second to power bomb them. It got a bigger reaction here, but it was still a little cheeky of them to recycle a spot on back-to-back pay-per-views.

Once everyone was back on their feet Barreta went for the Murray knee but got clotheslined. Konley ate an enziguri and a German suplex and the Bravados signalled for the Gentlemen's Agreement. ‘The Obsession’ fought them off, back dropped Lancelot out of the ring, shoved Harlem into Barreta's Gobstopper, and then pinned him with the double jump moonsault. The closing moments really elevated the quality of the match. I’d like Konley and Barreta to get more chances to team.

The tour culminated with Ricochet defending the Open the Freedom Gate championship against Johnny Gargano in a rematch from April’s Open the Ultimate Gate. For the record Ricochet won there, capturing the gold and ending Gargano's twenty-eight-plus month title reign. Oh, this match was for the Beijing cup too. That's a real prize right there.

They took a while to get going, milking the crowd and going through some basic exchanges before Ricochet got a headscissors and a drop kick. They avoided one another’s moves outside the ring and on the apron before Gargano got his spear through the ropes. He followed up with a snapmare, something Ricochet would do back to him a few minutes later.

As Ricochet turned the tables it became clear he was playing the antagonist in the match, choking Gargano on the ropes and shouting at people in the audience. After performing a standing moonsault (and the snapmare receipt mentioned above) Ricochet started punching Gargano with closed fists and then dropped him with a springboard clothesline.

They did Gargano’s duelling suplex attempt spot (which I personally find boring, although the crowds in China seemed to adore them) before ‘The Whole Shebang’ ran through Ricochet with clotheslines and gave him a pop-up power bomb for two. Ricochet rolled to the apron to recover but got kicked off by Gargano, then hit with a suicide dive. A lad in the audience loved that, giving Gargano a cheery thumbs up as he celebrated.

Back in the ring Gargano got a DDT on Ricochet then went for the lawn dart. Ricochet slipped out that and performed a fantastic Pele kick followed by his float over northern lights suplex. When Gargano kicked out Ricochet gave him a loud slap to the face before heading out to the ring apron. The challenger tried to hit a super kick but Ricochet blocked it and gave Gargano a Death Valley driver instead, sending him slumping down to the ringside mats.

Gargano made his way back into the ring at nine. Presumably he forgot he had a twenty count. ‘The Future of Flight’ leathered him with kicks and spat in his face (which seemed a bit much after Swann and Barreta had done the same thing in the main event of the previous show). Gargano psyched himself up and smashed the champion with elbows and an enziguri. Ricochet managed to grab him for a Benadryller but Gargano escaped, only to be dropped with a Superman punch.

Ricochet went to the top and hit a Shooting Star press. Gargano kicked out. Ricochet hoisted Gargano onto his shoulders and went to the second rope. Gargano elbowed out and tried for a hurricanrana. Ricochet blocked it. When Gargano tried the move again he got it but nimble ol’ Ricochet landed on his feet.

Gargano scored with a super kick. Ricochet scored with his own. Ricochet went for a kick to the mid-section (that’s real wrestling lingo there, “mid-section”) but Gargano caught his foot and flipped him over on to his knees. There he gave him another super kick before pulling him back to his feet to finally hit the lawn dart, which surprisingly earned him the victory and the championship.

It was a very good match, topping off a very good event and a very good tour. The fact that WWN were able to put on four such enjoyable and worthwhile shows with a relatively small roster at their disposal is a testament to the hard-working nature of the talent and Gabe Sapolsky’s ability as a booker. The news that China tours will become an annual event for the league is very welcome.


Results summary:
Rich Swann def AR Fox
Allysin Kay def Su Yung
Chuck Taylor def Jody Kristofferson by count out
Timothy Thatcher def Biff Busick
Mia Yim def Ivelisse Velez to win the Shine championship
The Premier Athlete Brand def The Bravado Brothers and The Colony
Johnny Gargano def Ricochet to win the Open the Freedom Gate championship

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