I don’t think it would be unfair to say that the WWN venture struggled to remain relevant in 2014. Visa issues brought an end to Dragon Gate USA, which had initially been the streaming service’s jewel in the crown, and while EVOLVE never failed to produce a show that was good it was also a promotion that spent much of the year looking noticeably smaller than other companies operating on a similar level (most obviously ROH and CZW). Meanwhile FIP and Shine, the other major new content providers, remained regional promotions running shows once every few months. Things just didn’t come together for them.
Until, that is, November came around. In partnership with Great Wall International Sports Media a tour of China was organised, smartly marketed under the WWN name as opposed to EVOLVE, DG USA or something else entirely. Doing so gave the shows a natural reason to feature a variety of different titles and talents without overly worrying about rosters or promotion specifics. It was a good way for WWN to fill the void left by the Dragon Gate shows, pooling their resources for a string of supershows in front of larger than average crowds. Most importantly it put the World Wrestling Network name at the forefront of things. That will be a smart move in the long term as the service is continuing to expand.
The first show was held in the Golden Sport Hall in Yichang, Hebei. A cheerleader routine kicked off the show. Because cheerleaders and wrestling are such a natural pairing, obvs. They were followed by a Chinese event host hitting the ring and talking for several minutes. This would be a running theme across the shows. I assume it’s because Chinese audiences are more patient than western audiences, who generally just want a wrestler in the ring doing something as soon as a show begins. Either that or a poor editing choice.
The waiting continued when it was revealed that Rich Swann and AR Fox would be the first men out to the ring. Swann spent several minutes singing Lionel Richie’s All Night Long in its entirety and feverishly trying to work the audience up. They got into the song eventually but it took some doing, and it clearly wasn’t what Swann had wanted. It was a textbook example of Swann being far too happy to try tiring out an audience for his own gratification. The Bravado brothers had a shorter and more traditional ring entrance. It was appreciated.
They had a match probably best described as fun. Fox and Swann encouraged the crowd to be more vocal and peppered the match with aerial moves, designed to elicit oohs and ahhs. They also concentrated on playing to the audience, presumably to get them into the habit of making noise. Meanwhile the Bravados concentrated on running through their finest cheap heat spots and isolating Swann. It all worked nicely.
The finish saw Swann accidentally wipe out Fox with a spinning instep kick, allowing the Bravados to hit the Gentlemen's Agreement on Fox for the victory. After the match the host (with Lacey drafted in to act as an interpreter) asked the Bravados something. Lancelot said something about the Open the United Gate championship. Presumably the former champs wanted the gold back.
That was followed by Jody Kristofferson versus Timothy Thatcher. Kristofferson is the artist formerly known as Garrett Dylan in NXT. These shows were easily the biggest gig he’d had since leaving WWE in May of 2013, even though he’s been paired with Larry Dallas and Earl Cooter. For anyone familiar with Kristofferson’s work as Dylan it’s worth noting that he’s altered his look since then. He’s now very clearly channelling Stan Hansen in both look and wrestling style.
Kristofferson jumped Thatcher before he was in the ring and they fought around the ring. When they got into the ring Thatcher took charge and the match settled down into something more closely resembling his usual efforts as he began working over Kristofferson's arm for a submission. Kristofferson was interesting to watch. He’s going for a rough and ready style that isn’t seen all that often on the US indies these days, what with every major name (understandably) being in such good shape and all. It was a nice change of pace to see a big lad hammering away at someone.
They had a good strong style match but the ending was unsatisfying: Kristofferson was disqualified after he wouldn't stop stomping Thatcher in a corner. Sadly these sorts of finishes would become a theme in Kristofferson matches across the tour. Post-match Kristofferson took a swing at the ref who ducked and ran off with Kristofferson and Dallas in pursuit. Cooter stayed behind to kick away at Thatcher but wound up taking an uppercut and a gut wrench suplex. That'll teach 'im.
Shine action followed that with Mia Yim taking on Allysin Kay. Yim controlled the early going with arm drags and hurricanranas before Kay turned the tide with a power bomb. Yim survived a double handed choke bomb, a running Samoan drop, and a modified Dominator before firing back with a tornado DDT and a German suplex for a two count. A series of kicks wobbled Kay before she lamped Yim with a big boot. A second rope suplex failed when Yim managed to shove her off and double stomp her from the top for the win.
After the match Yim was asked about her upcoming Shine championship match with Ivelisse Velez. She said she was friends with Ivelisse but that friendship didn’t stop stop her wanting the title and wouldn’t make her hold back in the match. As promos go it did its job.
Johnny Gargano was up next, doing his best to energise the audience as he strode to the ring. He didn't do a bad job, to be fair. His opponent was 'Mr Hairy Chest' Biff Busick. It was an energetic encounter. They started off with lots of chops before Gargano channelled 90s Shawn Michaels for some jabs and an upside down bump off a whip into the corner.
Unimpressed with ‘The Whole Shebang’s’ wild bumps Busick hit an impressive leaping neck breaker for a two count. A duelling suplex spot, won by Gargano, followed that. To be honest I could have done without it: it’s a spot that’s very hard to make convincing. Busick ran into Gargano's spear through the ropes and then took a suicide dive outside the ring. Gargano celebrated his success by hugging some middle-aged men at ringside.
Back in the ring Busick turned a Hurts Donut attempt into a reverse Exploder suplex. Gargano came back with a super kick, a lawn dart, and a successful Hurts Donut before applying the Gargano Escape to earn a submission victory and end an enjoyable match.
Gargano's post-match comments were about being honoured to compete in China for the World Wrestling Network. Good for him. Good for Johnny.
The second offering from Shine was a title match. Su Yung, in her role as a wrestler as opposed to a villainous secretary, challenged the league's singles champion Ivelisse Velez. They constructed a solid, well-paced match, never getting ahead of themselves and making the most of the time they had. Su Yung took charge of the action, grounding Velez with submission attempts and wear down holds. Ivelisse retained the title after rolling Su Yung up with sunset flip from the corner.
The show's penultimate offering was an Open the United Gate title match, The Colony challenging Trent Barreta and Caleb Konley of the Premier Athlete Brand. The Brand were without Anthony Nese, Su Yung and Mr A but they did have Barreta's FIP title belt with them. I think that was a decent enough replacement for the proven to be ineffective Mr A.
There were stereo suicide dives from the ants towards the beginning of the match, indicating that the match might turn into something special or noticeably energetic. It didn’t. For the most part it was just the PAB working over Silver Ant. He eventually hit the tag to Fire Ant, who wiped out both PAB lads and set up Barreta for a Silver Ant frog splash. That wasn't enough to get the win and the Brand turned the tables, Baretta stopping a double team top rope move, pulling Fire Ant and leaving Silver Ant to take Konley’s Double Jump moonsault. The match was good but it didn't have the most coherent story. It was the only occasion on the opening show when I missed having commentary to help the flow of a match.
As Barreta and Konley celebrated the Bravados reappeared. They attacked everyone and hit Konley with the Gentlemen's Agreement. Then they posed with the belts as the crowd half-heartedly booed them.
In the main event slot were Ricochet and Chuck Taylor, wrestling for Ricochet's Open the Freedom Gate championship. While the match wasn’t bad I don’t think it was a suitable main event offering. It was short in comparison to many of the night's other matches and as a result it felt incomplete and one-sided in favour of the champion, not something you usually get in the WWN leagues. I suspect this was due to the rest of the show running long or something along those lines as opposed to being a conscious decision. Ricochet won after a Superman punch, a roundhouse kick and a 630 splash.
Johnny Gargano showed up after the match and vowed to relieve Ricochet of the Open the Freedom Gate strap in Beijing. Ricochet didn’t respond verbally. He just held up his title then rolled out of the ring pretending he'd been exhausted by a sub ten minute match. Hey, he does his talking in the ring!
Overall the show was a good start to the tour. The right people won, generally in the right way, and there wasn’t a single match that was actually bad. As far as first impressions go, I think this must have been a good one.
Results summaryThe Bravado Brothers def AR Fox and Rich Swann
Timothy Thatcher def Jody Kristofferson via DQ
Mia Yim def Allysin Kim
Johnny Gargano def Biff Busick
Ivalisse Velez def Su Yung
The Premier Athlete Brand def The Colony
Ricochet def Chuck Taylor