Monday 16 June 2014

RPW Summer Sizzler 2014 review

June 15 2014 was Father’s Day. It was also the day Revolution Pro Wrestling returned to Bethnal Green to put on their Summer Sizzler show. Embarrassing name aside it looked like a good show going in. Shinsuke Nakamura was announced to wrestle in the main event. ROH boys Adam Cole and Kevin Steen were brought in, along with the world’s premier free agent Prince Devitt (yep, I’d rank him above KENTA). Plus there was the usual assortment of leading British talent.

The opening match was a tag team championship match. The titles are officially dubbed the Undisputed British tag team titles, and I suspect the existence of other British wrestling promotions makes that name a lie. The defending champions were The Kartel, Sha Samuels and Terry Frazier, members of larger heel faction The Revolutionists. Samuels and Frazier have teamed, on and off, for around a decade.

Samuels wrestles with suspenders clipped to his trunks, has the London Underground logo with EAST written on the blue bar prominently displayed on his gear and enters wearing a scarf. Basically he does a stereotypical football hooligan routine and gets into playing the heel. He’s a fun character and a good addition to the show. I probably wrote something similar to this when writing about Uprising last year.

Terry Frazier is… less good. He looks like a low budget version of Rhett Titus, with a hint of Trent Acid mixed in. That’s not a good start but it could be easily overcome if he showed aptitude for putting on good matches. He doesn’t. Instead he resorts to cheap heat tactics such as leaping crowds to shout in people’s faces and spitting. The former can be effective but it’s not really suitable in an opening match. It sets a bad tone for the show. And even within the parameters of the fictional world of wrestling it’s still a pretty aggressive thing to do and fans would be well within their rights to deck Frazier: he’s the one starting it after all. He should probably bear that in mind, because the guys he chose to do it to (sitting right in front of me and Michael) outnumbered him and were bigger.

The spitting’s just disgusting and completely uncalled for. Basically I wasn’t impressed with Terry Frazier. As he debuted in 2001 I think it’s reasonable to expect him to have figured out better ways of riling crowds by now. Apparently he hasn’t.

The challengers for the tag straps were Joel Redman and ‘The Guvnor’ Martin Stone, wrestling under the collective name of England’s Calling. If you’re an NXT viewer you may know them better as Oliver Grey and Danny Burch. They were released from their WWE developmental contracts back in April and were quickly announced for this event. Both men had been amongst the biggest names in British wrestling when they signed with WWE. People loved seeing them back.

England's Calling with their new titles.
The match started out as a lengthy brawl at ringside. The faces threw the heels onto chairs, into guardrails, into steel shutters, and did piledrivers on the wooden floor (along with Frazier’s cheap heat nonsense). Things settled down when they got back into the ring. Samuels took control for his team by using his suspenders to gain an unfair advantage over Stone. That led to a hot tag to Redman a few minutes later. He battered both foes before hitting an assisted DDT on Frazier for the win and the titles. The performance of Stone and Redman showed that WWE could have done worse than pair them up as a team in NXT. Booked like they were here (unlikely in WWE I know) they could have torn the house down with The Ascension.

Match number two saw Henry VIII lookalike Dave Mastiff take on New Japan megastar… Bad Luck Fale. Yes, RPW had gone to the trouble of flying in Fale, a slow out of shape and generally limited wrestler who works in Kevin Nash-esque gear (hey, I love me some Nash but his gear is designed to hide his skinny legs, specifically those fragile quads of his). It would become clear why Fale was there later on, but that makes this match no less ropey.

Mastiff made things just about tolerable with his hilarious facial expressions (a constant throughout the match). He’s a good guy to have on a show: he can work a good big man match and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Fale got the surprising, and unpopular, victory when he channelled Umaga and blasted ‘Big Bad’ with a Samoan Spike. The audience wanted to see Mastiff go over.

Going from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous a video was shown announcing that RPW’s York Hall return in October would feature a reunion of Too Cool and Rikishi. Because that’s what London needs in 2014, apparently. The news was announced by Big Keesh himself. He didn’t say that he was doing the reunion for The Rock, but I suspect that he is. For the record Michael was into Rikishi’s announcement in a big way.

Kevin Steen... and the backs of some people's heads.
As only six matches had been announced the first half ended with match number three. It featured RPW Undisputed British champion (yep, undisputed) ‘Party’ Marty Scurll defending his title against Kevin Steen. ‘Mr Wrestling’ got the loud, positive reaction you’d expect. He’s a popular guy and I think people were pleased to have the chance to see him wrestle before he moves to WWE. I know I was.

Marty Scurll had the first noteworthy entrance of the evening. He entered to remixed music (I’ve no idea how new it is but I’m sure it’s new enough for me to comment on it) wearing a fur jacket that was possibly inspired by Forever Hooligans, although in truth it was more Del Boy than Rocky Romero. Sadly he was not announced as the star of ITV’s Take Me Out. Perhaps that’s considered played out? He was sporting some wonderfully heelish leopard print trunks with VILLAIN emblazoned on the back. That was something Steen picked up on during the match, saying he didn’t feel he could trust Scurll because of it. That got a laugh.

Seeing Steen live made me realise how good he is at interacting with the crowd. He listened to what the crowd were reacting to and chanting for and incorporated it into what he was doing. For example, he started a bit involving the ropes after he’d used them to break a couple of holds and Scurll had accused him of using them too much. This led to the crowd booing as Scurll kicked the ropes and cheering when Steen kissed them. It was something different and showed a skill at getting the fans to care about his matches in ways that don’t involve wrestling moves (when else have you ever seen people react for how ring ropes are treated?). It’s possible this is something he’s done before, but it’s clearly not something he can or would do regularly, and aspects of it grew naturally from the match. It’s a great skill for a wrestler to have and few are better at it than Steen.

This was an addition to the more usual Steenish antics of stealing Marty’s coat and running onto the entrance ramp wearing it. When that got woos, I think because people assumed Steen was stylin’ and profilin’, he tugged the thing off and gave it an elbow drop. Back in the ring he posed with Marty’s belt as the champ bailed from the ring for a breather at ringside. He was fun basically, and you need fun on a wrestling show as much as a really good match or two.

That said this match also ticked the really good match box. Steen did his apron bomb, pop up power bomb, and survived a surprisingly over rear choke. Marty escaped from the package piledriver twice and managed to kick out of a fisherman suplex from the second rope. The bout ended with cheating: Marty distracted the referee by grabbing his belt then gave ‘Mr Wrestling’ a low blow and rolled him up with a small package.

Scurll ran backstage afterwards, leaving Steen to soak in a standing ovation. That was designed to send us off into the interval happy as much as anything else.

The man. The Myth. The legend. Andy Quildan.
The subject of the interval is probably a good time to bring up Andy Quildan. He’s gotten himself over with me and Michael (and possibly other people too) by being not only an uninspiring ring announcer and general hype man but also for his (probably deliberate) poor time keeping. He said the interval would be a “brief” fifteen minutes. It was just under half an hour. At one point during the show he was heckled by some kids and responded by jokingly saying, into the mic no less, “I’m a liar.” Nobody seemed to understand what that meant. His finest gaff of the night was easily his announcing during the main event where he introduced Adam Cole’s opponent Prince Devitt with the words “And him opponent.” At this point Quildan is part of the reason I like RPW.

The second half kicked off with what had been previously been announced as the main event: Zack Sabre Jr versus Shinsuke Nakamura. Junior wore his GHC junior tag title to the ring and had NOAH written on his boots. He’s clearly proud to be working for a badly faltering Japanese promotion. In fairness he probably makes more money from wrestling there than for wrestling for RPW, so he probably should be proud.

Nakamura’s entrance involved him posing with a geisha in the entranceway, doing his sexy steps and biting his fingers. Unfortunately Quildan announced him as he was walking to the ring which meant he didn’t get the chance to do his bend over backwards rope pose as his name was shouted. Other than that it was as close to a New Japan entrance as could realistically be achieved in what is essentially a village hall in east London.

The entrances are an aspect of the show that Quildan deserves credit for making particular effort with. He’s clearly realised that entrances have become a more significant part of wrestling shows, thanks mostly to New Japan, although the efforts of WWE at WrestleMania and Prince Devitt (more on his entrance below) have helped to. Putting work into giving us something memorable in that area (or at least designating the job to someone else) was a good call and a nice touch.
Nak v Zack.
Nak versus Zack was my match of the night, mainly for getting to see ‘The King of Strong Style’ in person. It started, as you’d expect, with kicks. By the end of the bout Sabre Jr was giving as good as he got (or trying to) on the kick front but when they started he didn’t seem to be going for it. Nakamura laughed his offence off, pretty much no-selling it in fact, and showed him how it’s done.

They went on a jaunt to the outside of the ring where Nakamura dropped Sabre across the guardrail with a suplex and then kicked him in the head. He tossed him into the crowd and kicked him there too. Basically there was a lot of kicking. Back in the ring Sabre Jr hit a particularly impressive dragon suplex and then upped his game on the kick front. Nak scored with a Boma Ye but Zack did the young boy one count kick out. Nak dropped him with another Boma Ye off the second rope and then immediately followed up with a third for the three count.

That was followed by a tag match. It was meant to be The Swords of Essex taking on 2 Unlimited but Swords member Paul Robinson no-showed the event and was replaced by Jake McCluskey. I don’t know what the original match would have been like but this was good, if a little sloppy and awkward in places.

The four guys packed in plenty of flying spots and a good number of double team moves. Will Ospreay (of The Swords) was particularly impressive. He’s someone that deserves a bigger role in companies like RPW. 2 Unlimited did a lot of slick double team wrestling. Meanwhile McCluskey displayed a nice line in roaring elbows. On the subject of McCluskey he should probably invest in some better-fitting trunks: he was nearly falling out of the ones he was wearing. 2 Unlimited won after one (I apologise for not knowing which) sat on the top rope and the other did a 450 from his shoulders, the sitting one following up with springboard phoenix splash.

That match was followed by the announcement that Kazuchika Okada will be joining Too Cool at the company’s October show. I hope he and Gedo join in on the dancing. I think I’m going to be disappointed.

That left only the main event, Adam Cole taking on Prince Devitt. Here Devitt made his entrance dressed as Bane. That’s the good take on Bane from The Dark Knight Rises as opposed to the rubbish take on Bane from Batman & Robin. Devitt could actually have gone with the original comic book look as that had a burly luchador vibe. He probably made the right choice though: the recent cinematic take is far more recognisable to non-comics fans.

Bane Devitt.
Two guys dressed as American cops confronted Devitt in the aisle and took a beating before he made his way down to the ring. That’s what I’m talking about when I say thought and work had clearly gone into some of the entrances on this show. Bane Devitt’s intro surpassed any you’ll see on the average RAW.

The match was very good. Being a Cole match there were awkward posing moments and super kicks. Being a Devitt match there were double stomps. Had I been watching online or on a DVD it’s possible I’d have preferred it to Nakamura v Sabre Jr. But I wasn’t so I didn’t. They brawled up to the entranceway at the beginning and did some sort of dive spot I couldn’t see properly before returning to ringside. Cole got placed on a chair and kneed in the head after a lengthy run-up. In the ring he scored a cracking near fall off a pair of super kicks and a Florida Key. His figure four earned woos and excited the fans but didn’t get him a victory (it’s unlikely to without Delirious booking). Ultimately Devitt came back with a superplex and a double stomp followed by Reverse Bloody Sunday for the win.

Lovely shot of Sha's suspenders there.
After the match the two men shook hands before the ROH champ left, giving Prince a moment alone in the ring to soak up audience adulation (playing on the rumours that he’s off to WWE and this would be his final RPW appearance). It didn’t last: The Revolutionists ran in and gave him a kicking. The predictable Bad Luck Fale wander-in came after about thirty seconds of Devitt taking a beating. The faces recovered long enough for Devitt to say that he’d come close to getting the Bullet Club (of which he and Fale were the founding members) involved in an RPW show in 2013 but it hadn’t happened. Regretting that missed opportunity he announced he wanted to make up for it then and there and challenged The Revolutionists to a tag match.

That was agreed to and kicked off immediately. Devitt was isolated from the opening bell and spent most of the match taking a beating and dealing with outside interference with Revolutionist members not officially involved in the match. When it became clear that the outside interference wasn’t going to stop Kevin Steen ran down to even the odds, allowing Bullet Club to get the victory with a Fale Samoan drop and a Devitt double stomp.

Send the fans home happy, yeah?
The show ended with some posing. First Fale hoisted Dev up on to his shoulders and then Devit strangled Sha Samuels with Sha’s own scarf as he did the Bullet Club gun sign to his head. They finished up with Steen joining them for some Kliq posturing. It was a strong end to a fun show.

Summer Sizzler did not reach the heights of Uprising 2013 but I don’t think it was ever going to. The line-up for Uprising was exceptional, boasting a higher calibre of fly-in overall (Fale brought things down for Sizzler) and a greater number of matches. But taken on its own merits, which is the fair thing to do, SS was a success. There was only one match that could truly be considered duff and that was more than made up for with Scurll v Steen, Nakamura v Sabre Jr, and both Devitt matches. If shows like this could be produced more frequently RPW could really go places.

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