ICW Wolf of Sauchiehall Street Review and the Current State of Indies in Scotland

ICW WoS poster

Wolf of Sauchiehall Street poster, credit: ICW

A few years ago, Glasgow seemed like the indy wrestling capital of the UK, and maybe even beyond. That was something I took a maybe misplaced pride in, but it inspired pride nonetheless. A few things have shifted over the past year or so though, and when looking at shows to attend recently, I really struggled to find something. The rise to greater prominence of feds like Progress, Attack, IPW, Defiant, and in outer Europe, OTT and wXw have expanded the pool of talent with notoriety and added more varied competition while in Scotland, the talent seems like something of a gold-fish bowl of the same faces.  As passionate as most fans and the workers remain, the scene up in Glasgow has started to seem pretty stagnant.

Then of course, there is Bram. The domestic violence allegations against him are shocking and upsetting, making many of those I know who follow Britwres uncomfortable with promotions that book him. That includes me. It’s made worse by ICW, SWA, and Pro Wrestling Elite, the main promotions in Scotland, closing ranks and apparently booking him feverishly with misplaced righteousness. Indeed, many of his colleagues including the likes of Lionheart, Kenny Williams, Viper, Session Moth and more came out to publicly defend Bram and endorse him. On a human level, they are clearly friends with Bram and it’s hard to blame them for supporting a friend, but to address a point they kept making, of course their friend who they are more of an equal to hasn’t treated them that way, and the fact that they’ve only seen his good side does not make him innocent.

Regardless of that, it’s a bad hill for ICW et al to die on and one that at least makes it harder to choose ICW in the aftermath. I myself had eschewed some cards thereafter due to the booking of Bram but have now been caught out a couple of times. The first time was last year when I went to see Pro Wrestling Elite in Ayr specifically to see Pete Dunne and was upset to see Bram on the same cared. Yesterday was the second time. After the excitement I saw on Twitter to do with wXw 16 Carat, I got a hankering to see a live show, and I saw a version of yesterday’s card which didn’t include the Bram match and snapped up a ticket, only realising he was booked a day or two before the event. I decided I would still go but would leave for the bar/bathroom during his match. Unfortunately, when the time came, I was so jammed in that I couldn’t really get out easily and so I decided to just watch the floor. Unfortunately, there is so much crossover between promotions here and such an old-boy style protection of Bram that if you want to see wrestling in Scotland, you may have to choose between supporting an alleged domestic abuser or not seeing wrestling which is a real sad state of affairs.

With all that in mind, I want to give some thoughts on the show and the talent there.

ICW DCT

DCT soaking in the chants before battling Big Grizzly. Not really pictured: Coach Trip who helps make DCT a very entertaining act. Credit: Me.

I had seen DCT and Coach Trip a couple of times before, but this was the first time I really got in to the fun of it fully. Big Grizzly is a huge impressive figure but wasn’t getting much of a reaction and seemed somewhat irrelevant to the hugely popular DCT.

Next up was Stevie Boy w/ Kay Lee Ray against the replacement for Jordan Devlin, Dickie Divers. Out of the three, i’m only really particularly familiar with Kay Lee Ray so while I was disappointed she didn’t have a match of her own, it was great that she was so involved with the match. I slightly recognised Divers but given the way Stevie reacted to him, he was clearly set up to be a jobber, but building on that first impression, these folks put together a really cool, interesting match. Divers kicked off the match, literally, with a stiff strike to Stevie and was chasing the upset. KLR kept involving herself to try to help put Divers down, and this was mixed with some more light-hearted moments surrounding easter egg shots and mini-eggs-as-thumb-tacks comedy spot which worked well. One spot I really loved was Divers nearly outsmarting the two to win. KLR was ubiquitous in the match and eventually, Divers put her in a figure 4 before rolling up Stevie so that she couldn’t interfere. That only led to a 2-count but Divers did manage the shock pin after Kenny Williams interference. Really a way to build to the Kenny Williams-Stevie Ray match at Barramania, but one of the most entertaining matches on the card and a great showcase for Divers. If he is indeed more of a jobber, matches like this should push him up the card.

ICW KLR

Was pleased to see the renowned Kay Lee Ray, even if it was in a secondary role on a card with no women’s matches. Credit: Me.

While I was happy to see Kay Lee Ray wrestle, her appearance as essentially a valet highlighted all the more that there were no women’s matches on the card at all. That’s really not acceptable in 2018, and while no particular match deserved to be bumped from the card (except for Bram-Lionheart, but that wouldn’t happen), ICW should have made more effort to book a women’s match. This may be a reason it’s lost a bit of an edge. She is an excellent inter-gender competitor too. I’m hoping to write about that topic in the near future.

I enjoyed The Kings of Catch vs The Purge, and it was a good match though The Purge seemed a little like another version of a gimmick we’ve seen a million times. I can’t really fault them for it, I just hope they get to develop it a bit more. The match was interrupted by a genuinely freaky video featuring a man in a Texas chainsaw monster mask which got actual reactions from the crowd. Unfortunately it was followed up by two people (I don’t know their names) from the video with the monster in a slightly different, cheaper-looking mask, playing the simple country monster and seemingly affecting some sort of hand deformity like you might see a disabled person have and if so, that it really disappointing. The country monster wasn’t that impressive to be honest and led to some ‘shit Mick Foley’ chants. I don’t think it worked. Anyway, a decent match undermined by that weird stuff.

ICW BTG

BT Gunn is definitely ‘over’ but I didn’t see much in this match to convince me of why. Credit: Me.

The came the Triple Threat for the Zero G title as the main event of the first taping. This was one I was very interested in because I wanted to see what the fuss was about regarding BT Gunn. I hadn’t seen that much of ‘The Oddity’ but didn’t think anything particularly much of him, so I was surprised to see ICW get behind him so much as to give him the heavyweight title as well as the Zero G title which is unprecedented I believe. His reputation has been growing and I wanted to see if it was justified. He was in a match with ‘The Phoenix’ Jody Fleisch and the ‘Power Forward; Mark Coffey, which is the first time I’ve seen him with that nickname. This match was pretty good, but hampered by a couple of things. First and foremost, Fleisch seems to be a very talented high-flyer but he seemed limited by the environment at The Garage with the low lights. He did some aerial moves, but it seemed like he had some things that he couldn’t do.

The second issue was that this highly-anticipated title match was essentially an angle, with masked henchmen of Mikey Whiplash abducting Gunn half way through, leaving just Fleisch and Coffey who would go on to double-pin each other. I rolled my eyes a little at this, but was more intrigued when Dallas announced that the title would be vacated, rather than it just being a shortcut to allow a normal rematch. Nice to see a different way of treating that finish. I’ve mentioned that I didn’t feel I really saw the full potential of Fleisch but the same goes, unfortunately for Gunn. He did some OK work, but spent a lot of time knocked out of the ring and being kidnapped, so I will defer judgement for now. As for Coffey, I was a bit taken aback by the ‘power forward’ monicker. I’m stuck between not really getting it, or getting how it relates to anything, so in that sense it doesn’t really work for me, but at least it’s different to some of the overdone staples in wrestling currently.

ICW Leyton Buzzard

Leyton Buzzard ‘in concert’ with his ukelele. A very entertaining segment. Credit: Me.

To start the second show taping seemingly, we were treated to ‘a concert’ from Joe Hendry intern, Leyton Buzzard. They leaned in to the Elias parody but Leyton made it his own by making it a more cheeky kind of funny and he really won over the crowd with it. Then came out Chris Renfrew. My enjoyment of Chris Renfrew has shifted greatly over time. When I first saw him a few years back, I didn’t really get him or the New Age Kliq, I thought it was a bit try hard and didn’t think the writing on himself was as cool as others did. I then watched his match with Grado at Square Go a few years back and enjoyed it a lot and was more content with him. On Sunday, I really enjoyed him. He has become something close to late-era Steve Austin in that he has an aura of unpredictable danger around him, and of course, he has a Stunner in his move set. His coming out and being unironically moved by Buzzard’s performance was warmly funny and even though it ending up in a Buzzard vs ref match with Renfrew as the special guest referee didn’t make a lot of sense, it was a lot of fun. I also enjoyed the closer of Renfrew and the victorious ref getting stuck in a trance pointing at an imaginary sign. Now at this point, WrestleMania sign gags are pretty tired, but this worked because of how much they committed to it. Both had to be carried/led out by several crew members while maniacally pointing at the imaginary sign. I am super impressed by Renfrew’s range from being psychopath to being genuine comic relief.

Next up was Ravie Davie vs Iestyn Rees. I don’t know much about Ravie Davie as a real guy, but I’m not a huge fan of the gimmick. It has the same issue as Session Moth Martina which is it strikes me as a classist caricature aimed at hipsters. People from all backgrounds like wrestling, but in the case of these indies, a big portion of the fans are middle class and it comes across as utilising a tabloid view of the poor. Iestyn Rees is a very different wrestler. I’ve seen him three times now and while i’m impressed by him and his look, he’s ultimately a bit of a Chris Masters which, to me, means he’s got everything expect for a unique charisma and stand-out skills. He’s very clean, but ultimately doesn’t create a lot of tension or excitement. He needs a bit of seasoning, but with that could be a bigger star. Not much of a match to be honest.

Lionheart vs Bram next. As I said before, I did my best not to watch, staring at the floor and I won’t acknowledge it more than that. I will talk briefly about Lionheart. Currently he’s working a veteran face character but it’s not one that works for me. He had two talking segments across the whole taping and both struck the same tone. He was going for a sort of badass pipebomb style promo but he says it with only imagined fire and with very little of interest to say. I must say he’s over with some people, but I don’t know why.

ICW Tag

A rare glimpse of traditional tag team wrestling. I welcome rest holds breaking up the action in such a high octane show. Credit: Me.

I really enjoyed the next match of Ashton Smith & Rampage Brown against Kenny Williams and Aaron Echo. I don’t really understand Echo’s gimmick, but I like Williams a lot and I really dug the brutality of Smith and Brown. They looked like they wanted to hurt Williams and Echo, and maybe even more. A good mix of styles and excellent tag team spots – something that ICW often loses a bit due to them frequently going to a tornado-style because of the no holds barred style.

The main event of the whole evening was Jimmy Havoc vs Mikey Whiplash. I don’t often like matches quite this violent, and I also don’t like the style of some of the sports in this match, but … this match really ended up working for me. It started out with each inviting the other to staple them. Watching live, I thought it looked stupid, like one of those (great) Laurel & Hardy slapstick sketches where they offer up themselves to the other for more punishment. The reality isn’t really far from that I guess in that it seems like some early bar-setting, trying to ‘out-hardcore’ the other and when I got that, I got in to it more. This was really just a brawl and while it didn’t make for a great wrestling story, it was a great experience. This match culminated with a Death Valley Driver from Whiplash to Havoc which led the pane of glass to explode with glass flying everywhere including in to the crowd. Whiplash took the victory and both paid their respects to the other, before agreeing to a rubber match in the future. In fact, I loved how Havoc addressed that. After being pinned following such brutality, he signed and then very casually said ‘that’s 1-1’. It was very funny and showed me something about the normality Havoc’s character attributes to violence and that makes for a cool character.

ICW Deathmatch

The aftermath of the Whiplash-Havoc death match. You can’t help but admire the heart of both men. Credit: Me.

I went away thinking the most about Whiplash. I’ve always liked Mikey Whiplash’s presentation but I was blown away by this event, not just his incredible heart in the match, but how significant he seemed. Some of the roster can feel they melt together a bit but while there are some who pretend to be dark or ‘alternative’, Whiplash is one of the few who really achieves it in ICW. He believably seems like a somewhat psychopathic sadomasochist with a kink to him. He stands out more than anyone on the roster by a mile. His entrance music is an absolute banger too.

If it was me, while I know he’s an older performer, I would put the title on him and let him put ICW on his back for a while, and I think Kenny Williams would be an excellent foil for him. I don’t know what history they have together, but you have the purest babyface there against a really dark cultist character. I think they would have excellent chemistry.

Overall, I enjoyed the card this Sunday. There were some fun matches and an excellent main event. That said, there is definitely something stale about the company now. I think they rely a little bit on the swearing and loud Glasgow-style banter in an attempt to seem cool and adult. While some of that is needed to give the fed some character, I think it is definitely over relied on and gets a bit grating. I can see why existing fans like it, and I like it in places, but I can also see why it would alienate new outside fans a bit. It just seems like it’s spinning wheels and I hope they can freshen up the regular roster a bit and take some cues from from other feds in terms of presentation. There is a bit of compromise to be had.

During an interview segment I didn’t review here, Dallas alluded to ICW maybe not being as successful as before, acknowledging the success of other promotions, but I put it down to scene-setting. Then, after the taping had finished, he came out again and did the same. This wasn’t being filmed so I don’t think it would really contribute much to the story, so maybe there is a feeling of distress in ICW. I want it to succeed and I want to be proud again of having something so impressive on my doorstep. This evening showed me what it can offer, but it also showed me reasons why it still might have a while to go.

 

 

 

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Free Speech, Humanity, and Mediocre White Knights

dankula watson

Don’t make these people your heroes: Count Dankula (centre) and Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars and God knows who the other guy is. Credit: twitter.com

One of the more prevalent stories making the rounds in Scotland certainly, but around the world, has been the arrest and charging of controversial Youtuber, ‘Count Dankula’. Free speech and comedy have had a bit of a tenuous relationship for centuries as comedians defend their jokes from a mixture of the prudish, and most recently, liberal progressives. I have had an interest in this intersection of comedy and free speech for at least eight years when I wrote critically of the South Park creators for playing around with depicting the Prophet Muhammad. As a self-identifying progressive as well as a more shakily self-identifying comedy writer, free speech and what is ‘acceptable’ has been a dichotomy which has shifted uneasily between a few positions regularly often depending on the latest convincing opinion I have heard. Luckily, I have come to something like a final position, in no small thanks to this latest controversy.

Shortly before Count Dankula made his unfortunate rise to relative prominence, Ricky Gervais released his latest stand up hour, Humanity, on Netflix which created it’s own free-speech-storm – not Gervais’ first. The two men aren’t the same, and they represent different approaches to their material; one being a more sincere craft, and the other being formulaic clickbait, but both somehow ending up in the same position as self-appointed white knights.

It’s at this point that I want to make a couple of things as clear as possible so that what I say is neither misunderstood or wilfully misrepresented. A refrain for the article:
1) No one should ever be arrested for mere words unless they explicitly incite violence against specific people or groups.
2) You should be able to tell jokes about whatever you like, no matter how dark, but part of freedom of speech is receiving any criticism that accompanies it.
3) Criticism is not censorship.

That said, on first to Ricky Gervais, who has a track record of writing funny, considered comedy shows with heart – his seminal sitcom The Office remaining a masterpiece on all those fronts. He is indeed a controversial figure though and despite protestations, this is an image he cultivates and as his comedy has become less consistent following The Office, his ability to write with heart has also been hit and miss. The first real mis-step I remember from Gervais was in 2011 and the public telling off he received from Richard Herring for his flippant use of the word ‘mong’ which he then doubled down on by repeating the word along with mocking faces, asserting his right to say it and that there was nothing wrong with it. To be fair to him, he would later climb down and sincerely – I believe – apologise.

Gervais Golden Globes

Gervais during one of his famous Golden Globes performances, notorious for the roasting of those in attendance. Credit: NME.com

Since then, especially as a result of his Golden Globes hosting routines, he has become associated even more with controversy, and Humanity has been no different. When reading about the show, it became clear that the main charge against him was of transphobia, but before jumping to conclusions I wanted to watch the whole show for myself because even a whole 15 minute, seemingly self-contained bit can have a different effect on the context of a whole show. So I watched Humanity and i’m sad to say, I believe the bit in question is definitely transphobic, even if it’s not intended to be. He talks about how carefully he considers the targets of his jokes, but if that’s the case, he either made an unbelievable miscalculation or considered trans people a target. The bit starts off well. He’s reflecting on an earlier controversy of his regarding a Caitlyn Jenner joke, explaining how the person, morally, was the target, and not the fact that she is trans, as well as explaining a clever joke which played against old-fashioned jokes about women drivers.

Unfortunately, his clear disdain for Jenner leads him in to a bizarre second half of the bit where he explains ‘deadnaming’ and then gleefully and repeatedly does it before describing the decision to become trans as quite flippant and as similar to him identifying as a chimp and insisting people treat him as a chimp. He seems disgusted that trans people ask simple, basic consideration of others, and in comparing it to him identifying as a chimp brings to mind the kind of nut who responds to gay marriage with the ‘humans will be able to marry animals next’ complaint. It’s not funny, it’s awkward, and it makes a marginalised group the undoubted target of the bit. He’s clearly obsessed somewhat over his controversial Jenner joke, and in an effort to defend himself, has made a joke in bad faith which has gone on to punch down to trans people.

The rest of the show gets better in the sense that it’s rarely particularly offensive after that save for some clumsy lines and is capped off with some insightful routines about rape jokes, animal cruelty, and a warmly funny story about his mother’s funeral. The rape joke bit is especially eye-opening as it makes his point about free speech in a much more coherent way, saying that there is a difference between finding rape as a concept funny, and finding certain jokes which include rape funny. He gives a good example of a funny, totally harmless joke which plays with the word ‘rape’ while making it sincerely clear that a joke that trivialised rape as an experience or it’s victims would be out of order. The trans bit is the only really deplorable part of the show, and though there are a handful of funny bits, what it is overall, is mediocre. He is bogged down in his ‘shocking’ style, including a couple of lazy clangers about cancer where he seems to expect a laugh simply for making a dark cancer joke. He is hogtied by the theme of his show, and his overarching career theme of awkward offensiveness and often forgets to be particularly funny while performing his lecture about free speech.

He says as a quick aside towards the end of the show that it’s ‘never the point’ to offend people, but I beg to differ. The idea that he isn’t trying to offend people while telling so many jokes he knows are offensive doesn’t pass the smell test, and that’s a shame, because generally speaking, I think Gervais is sincere in trying to have a positive message in his comedy – he just has some blind spots, obscured by his interpretation of free speech. He says, quite rightly, that finding humour in even the worst of situations is important as it helps us through pain and through adversity, but I would then ask him how laughing at trans people helps with adversity?

 

Gervais athiest

How Gervais portrays himself as a literal martyr for Free Speech. A bit over-dramatic? Credit: New Humanist

I recently joked with friends that the modern ‘white man’s burden’ is constantly having to talk and be heard, and it apparent that Gervais feels his need to assert his unalienable right to do that is more important that the upset doing so may cause. That’s fine, and I defend his right to do it, but it points to the privilege he and some of the other people I will mention benefit from. He simply doesn’t know what it’s like to be joked about due to his race, religion, sexuality, disability, or  gender, and maybe that’s why it’s so easy for him to make and defend jokes about trans people.

For Gervais, his controversy/free speech double-team has become a cottage industry. After his first Golden Globes performance where he ‘roasted the elite’, he was later invited back, and like Daniel Kaluuya at the end of Fifteen Million Merits, dutifully played the role of the provocateur. It’s not quite as edgy when your targets invite you to roast them. His comedy has become more dependent on him acting, to paraphrase, as ‘police for free speech’ on outlets like Twitter, and due to the gravitas of that topic, his fairly pedestrian comedy can be propelled to the zeitgeist of some fairly prurient conversations. Humanity is an OK stand up show easily co-opted as a platform for Gervais’ imagined martyrdom.

But Ricky Gervais is not the only person who has settled in to that niche. Enter, unfortunately, Count Dankula. Dankula, real name Mark Meechan, was until recently, a very little known YouTuber known for, if anything, a back catalog of drearily unfunny videos that mixed the lazy tropes of social media sketches and the ‘lulz’ of the Daily Stormer playbook. Bland sketches and memes. One of his latest unfunny sketches, depicting him training his dog to make ‘Nazi salutes’ at jokey commands such as “gas the Jews” and “Seig Heil” has ‘gone viral’, however, due to his being convicted of a crime for making it and may face jail time. It is no surprise that several people, and especially comedians, have raced to defend Meechan from this injustice, because that’s what it is. Getting back to the refrain from earlier, no matter how distasteful someone’s speech may be – and I think Meechan’s is more hateful than he has let on (more on that in a moment) – he didn’t explicitly incite violence against anyone, and so he should be able to say it.

As a Scot, I am as angry at the Scottish court who convicted Meechan as I am at anyone involved here. Not only is it embarrassing for my country to be the home of such an action, but it is also a phenomenally stupid move that has made this no-talent idiot a voice, but it has, in making him a victim of censorship, allowed him a martyr complex he is riding towards an undeserved relevance. Meechan has my support in terms of absolutely not facing conviction or censorship, but that’s where my support for him ends, and the reason for that comes from a look at the rest of his material and the company he keeps.

Dankula robinson jones

Quite the trifecta: Meechan palling up with Tommy Robinson and Alex Jones. Credit: Youtube.com

Though he denies having specific political beliefs, if you scratch the thinnest of surfaces on Meechan, it’s clear that he’s an alt-right personality. As mentioned earlier, his ‘comic’ choices, references, and explicit opinions are generally alt-right, right from the Daily Stormer style guide. Pepe the from is a prominent reference for him, using ‘autistic’ as an insult, using ‘globalist’ as a dog-whistle, memes, and flippant homophobia and Islamaphobia. He is deeply unpleasant, and uses ‘I was joking’ as a fallback, That’s fine of course, ultimately, but it is definitely dangerous. If the era of ‘Fake News’ is anything, it is one of manufactured confusion. The likes of Breitbart and the Daily Stormer may be evil, but they have their finger on the pulse of how people disseminate information online, and they know that even saying things like this as a joke has the desired effect. Here’s a quote from the oft-mentioned style guide:

“The tone should be light.

Most people are not comfortable with material that comes across as vitriolic, raging, non-ironic hatred.

The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not…

This is obviously a ploy and I actually do want to gas kikes.”

Apologies for quoting that word at the end there, but their hateful vitriol needs to be seen I think.

Dankula pepe

Meechan surrounded by the symbols of the alt-right. This is prevalent in his online presence. Credit: iNews.co.uk 

Consider this, and then consider that the more prominent figures he has since been cosiest to have been former EDL leader Tommy Robinson, Paul Joseph Watson, and Alex Jones. All different levels of insane and stupid, but all right wing bigots. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean anyone who defends Meechan should be tarred with the same brush, but it should give the likes of Ricky Gervais, David Baddiel, Stephen Fry and more pause when it comes to the nature of their support. Meechan has been closest to Robinson and Watson, meeting them in person and appearing with them with not even a veiled enjoyment of them and their support. I therefore think it’s credible to think that he shares their bigoted beliefs on a number of topics, and given he is unquestionably reading from the alt-right play book of lulz, he isn’t necessarily doing so ‘just as a joke’. The more of this material the indoctrinated see, the more emboldened they are, and while his joke, in a vacuum, is in bad taste but ultimately innocent, in that ‘lulz’ context, it is more serious. Indeed, after the pug video being published originally, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities received messages of abuse which made some members feel unsafe.

The difference between Meechan and Gervais is that I believe Gervais is sincere in what he says even if I think he gets it wrong at times, while I believe strongly that Meechan is riding the ‘free speech’ wagon to relevance and prominence. He is nailing himself to a cross over the injustice done to him, but that wasn’t the case when he was promoting petitions to criminalise Antifa groups due to their beliefs. In short, he doesn’t give a shit about free speech, he gives a shit about his ability to make racist memes and videos. It’s unfortunate that this is something we should all support, and that good people will fight for it when he wouldn’t do the same for you. I don’t know how familiar Gervais and the other comedians who have defended him are aware of the alt-right playbook, but this isn’t anyone who should be being held up as a protector of anything. He is a statistic, and a serious one, but when that is taken as endorsement, it is a problem.

While David Baddiel and others have later voiced some pause regarding the kind of guy Count Dankula is and his kind of material, Gervais has yet – I believe – to do so and has followed up his original comments with a tweeted picture of his cat with its paw up joking that it had watched the pug video. Maybe he’s just moved on since then, which is fair enough, but again clumsy. Gervais is possibly the most famous comedian in the world and like many celebrities, has a very loyal and organised fanbase. His popularising and typical doubling down on Meechan goes beyond defending this guy’s right to freedom and more towards endorsing him and the bad gag generally. This association is something the likes of Dankula and the rest of the alt-right are likely to bolster as it furthers their ultimate goal of making their hateful speech socially acceptable.

At this point, I would like to go back to my refrain:

1) No one should ever be arrested for mere words unless they explicitly incite violence against specific people or groups.
2) You should be able to tell jokes about whatever you like, no matter how dark, but part of freedom of speech is receiving any criticism that accompanies it.
3) Criticism is not censorship.

Stanhope

Doug Stanhope is an excellent example of a comedian with edgy, controversial material who doesn’t care if he offends you but generally does it in good faith. Credit: Ticketfly

Despite my criticism of the comedians here, that is all it is. Make your jokes, and unless someone is genuinely censored from doing so, who cares? If it’s funny, great; if it’s not, i’ll probably not watch again. That’s how it works. The shame here is that this baseline isn’t holding true due to the niche of comedians being offensive at the altar of free speech. Probably my favourite stand up is Doug Stanhope (I doubt he’d like this article but still) because as dark or offensive as he can be, it’s never in bad faith, he’s never punching down at people. He just writes what he thinks is funny, and while it’s not always to my taste, I know he’s not doing any of it maliciously and he doesn’t really care if he gets criticism for it.

In the case of Ricky Gervais, Count Dankula, and others, I think they protest too much. They pretend to be aloof while going on to make jokes or entire routines about those critical of them, and that makes for fairly dull material more than anything else.

That got me thinking, and while I don’t want to over-generalise, I think it’s clear that the vast majority of those who wax concerned about free speech are those least vulnerable to hateful speech: straight white men. To straight white men, the worst thing you can really say to them is that they’re wrong – we’re almost invulnerable to prejudice and can never truly understand it. That’s what privilege is. Perhaps if we knew they fear and de-humanisation of hate-speech we would be a bit less eager to ‘push the envelope’ just because we can. Personally, I would argue that if something is funny, it is worthwhile and it’s as simple as that, but that things aren’t really funny if they mock marginalised people or their experiences. People get it wrong at times, but don’t be scared to apologise if you do, it’s part of a healthy society to discuss these things. As ever, as long as you’re sincere, no one can ask more.

Freedom of speech is incredibly important, and should be fought for, but in defending it, we need to be careful not to embrace and put on a pedestal that sometimes hides behind it. I would rather admire the likes of Ricky Gervais for great material rather than mediocre material which seems more meaningful because it’s tacked-on to a debate about free speech. I certainly don’t want to even think about ‘Count Dankula’ at all again after I’ve finished this article. See him and defend him for what he is, a horrible person who has suffered an injustice, and not for this imagined view of him as a white knight of liberty. He’s not even funny.

The Curious Case of Abbey A and the Question of Just What a Community Should Do

This article obviously references tweets made by people I know, like, and respect. Even if I disagree with these people on this issue, in most cases, I still respect them. I considered contacting people directly to let them know I was writing this but didn’t want to cause any arguments or further discord, so i’m writing this instead. Please know, this isn’t intended to ‘subtweet’ anyone, and in most cases, the positions or even wording I refer to are a composite approximation of many people’s. A full breakdown of what happened can be found here: http://lulzstorage.com/. Just an FYI, some of the content and images here may make for a difficult read.

If you’re a wrestling fan on twitter, and if you identify as a member of ‘wrestling twitter’, you will no doubt have seen mention of one of a number of controversies from Ric Flair selling then retracting branded sexual consent forms, to Powerbomb parting ways with co-founder Adam Lash over his public criticism of the streaming service broadcasting an IWA show featuring Michael Elgin, leading to strange debates about Powerbomb’s contractual obligations; and finally, the main event, the bizarre tale of ‘Abbey A’ and her clear faking of cancer and later death. The whole soup was a real mess, but this article will deal mostly with the Abbey A situation, and most specifically, what could, and possibly should happen to her as a result.

Until late last week, I had never to my knowledge heard of Abbey or read any articles or anything else by her while she was a somewhat well-known wrestling writer, so I had no preconceptions of her when I saw the story of her supposedly faking cancer and soliciting around $10,000 of donations for treatment. Indeed, when I first saw her tweets, I believed her and even tweeted something along the lines of ‘this is unbelievable, I can’t believe people are doing this to someone with cancer’. Moments later I was deleting that as it was clear that something was at least fishy about her situation.

A combination of twitter users did some digging, and the whole thing became, I admit, a bit addictive. One reason it garnered so much attention was that Abbey’s attempts to fool people, including the infamous use of a google image search picture of jelly, were so pathetically transparent that it made for easy jokes and memes. Another reason for it being such a talked-about topic was that it’s almost a caricature of evil – a person claiming to both friends and strangers that she had a terrifying terminal illness to grift money from them. As many people pointed out, no wonder it overblown comic and dastardly undertones appealed to wrestling fans so much.

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Notable in it’s needlessness, Abbey faked nearly everything, even having a cup of jello. Credit: @Llamaoftruth

Though it was easy to laugh at Abbey’s ridiculous forgeries of doctors letters and the improbable appearance her ‘sister’ who took over her twitter after Abbey ‘died’, and to imagine what Abbey might do next, it shouldn’t understate how serious her crime is.

I want to be clear, what Abbey did isn’t serious because it’s a crime, but it is a serious crime. She defrauded many people of a total amount in to the tens of thousands of dollars across numerous crowdfunding sites. Yes, most contributions were fairly small, but not all of them, with some of them being substantial or repeated donations. I would also argue that the size of the donation is a minor point anyway. $20 could be a significant amount for someone who is kind enough to donate it – the reality of living poverty is a big reason why people create and donate to crowdfunders in the first place, so we shouldn’t assume these losses are insignificant. Indeed, not presuming is going to be a bit of a running theme here. My point is, this wasn’t a faux-pas, this was a con of people; many of whom clearly considered Abbey a friend. The fact that it was a particularly sick con – including the theft of a real (and unfortunately now deceased) cancer patient’s photo – doesn’t necessarily make it worse as a crime, but it does make it harder to forgive.

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Abbey stole this image to legitimise her story. The picture is of Emily Agnew, who had died of cancer when Abbey used this picture Credit: @Llamaoftruth

Indeed, to my surprise, the final subplot of this whole messy saga was what exactly people should do about Abbey, if anything. While those at the forefront of outing Abbey encouraged those affected by her con to report her to the authorities, a not insignificant collection of twitter users, some of whom I genuinely respect a lot, started to openly mock and criticise the idea. One tweet that I think summed up this initial tone best read

“lol at all the fucking cops outing themselves on wrestling twitter right now”

Initially, I put this down to a kind of meme-style language you see online all the time, e.g. ‘if you believe X, you police’. To be fair though, this led to more detailed arguments, but arguments they were, and in time-tested twitter tradition,  these disagreements were drawn diametrically and with at least a sense of ill will; with, to paraphrase, one side believing that the police be informed about Abbey’s crime, and the other side not thinking so.

The ‘no police’ side’s argument, from what I can tell is that, while they didn’t like what Abbey did, they were worried that getting the police involved could be a mistake because she could end up being killed by the police. I don’t write that with any sarcasm, I understand the thinking. The world has seen many cases of the Police in the US, poorly trained and armed to the teeth, killing people and getting away with it, regardless of whether or not the person was a danger. I believe that most of the people cautioning against involving the Police indeed were just concerned about Abbey’s well-being and the potential of this befalling her being tragically disproportionate.

That said, I fall largely on the other side of the argument. While this fate absolutely can befall anyone, including white people, let’s not kid ourselves that the police are anywhere near the same level of threat to a white person suspected of fraud who they would go to investigate than they are to a young black man on the street. Similarly, even-though these tragedies do happen, the way people were talking about this, you would think it was likely that a call to the Police would end in the death of Abbey, with users discussing the weighing up of the crime with a person’s life. I’m no defender of killer cops, but even a suspicious person must concede that only a miniscule proportion of police call-outs, regardless of circumstance, will lead to death. I struggle with the notion that a logical person can reasonably believe Abbey being reported to the police would have any significant chance of leading directly to her death. It comes from a good place, but it’s hysteria.

There was another element to this argument, and that’s that the ‘no police’ side seemed to think that those who thought the police should be involved were ‘European’, didn’t understand the US justice system, and supported authoritarianism. Not only was this aspect of the disagreement insincere and needlessly partisan, but I don’t even think it’s true. In my line of work for a charity working with many of the most vulnerable in society, I am super suspicious of areas of government and police divisions, and I know all too well that the US and the UK at least share a lot of the same judicial problems. Our systems are geared to punish petty, largely victimless crimes as much as anything else (I’m thinking mainly of drugs, but there are many other similar kinds of crimes), and target vulnerable and/or minority groups disproportionately because that satisfies the tabloid right wing and boosts the profits of corporations involved with prisons. The only difference is that people aren’t shot in the streets in the UK because our police usually don’t have guns.

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Fraud is nothing new to Abbey, and there’s no reason to think she wouldn’t do it again if left to her devices. Credit: @Llamaoftruth

So I can’t stress enough that my belief that Abbey deserves to be reported to the Police doesn’t come from an authoritarian stance. If she was taking drugs or even defrauding a corporation (i.e. if she was committing a victimless crime, or a crime which only ‘punched up’) I would never support her being reported, but I can’t stress enough that I think there are real victims of her actions, and so restitution can and should be pursued for them at least without wringing our hands about it. People are assuming that ‘she must have needed the money’, that ‘she is obviously going through mental issues’, and/or ‘she needs help’ but do we really know that? As I say, I don’t really know anything about her personally, but they seem like leaps of logic for people to defend their position and make further assumptions that her victims don’t need the money, that her victims aren’t going through mental issues themselves, or that the trauma she has caused for people by deceiving them won’t create or exacerbate existing issues. These seem to be purely assumptions, but they are all in Abbey’s favour when, to be frank, I don’t believe she deserves that benefit of the doubt, especially given that further digging has shown that this isn’t her first time defrauding people and so it can be fairly deduced that a great deal of this was premeditated.

The next bit is not even an assumption on my part, but a general feeling – I can’t help but feel that giving Abbey so much the benefit of the doubt isn’t incidental, and that, in fact, it is to protect her from accountability. Abbey was a fairly well known personality in wrestling twitter, and one who seemingly outwardly displayed tendencies which are quite common in the community: e.g. mental health issues, depression, and, well, the love of this weird niche interest we share. Many people felt betrayed by Abbey specifically because they felt close to her, and I think this may explain why some of the ‘no police’ side are so protective – through the disgust at what she did, they possibly still recognise a peer they relate to, someone they like.

‘Accountability’ specifically has become a dirty word in this argument, but I think it’s exactly what should be aimed for here, partly because it’s something a lot of these recent wrestling controversies have lacked. Abbey has hurt people, stolen from people, sullied reputations, and on this occasion, has done so in a criminal way. I think that warrants a fair, balanced restitution. Her reputation is already shot, and whatever the punishment for the brand of fraud she has committed is, she deserves to face. Nothing more, but also nothing less. The wrestling community can’t go on shielding people from accountability – it’s a cloud that hangs over the whole culture and one that can really ruin the magic of it. While there isn’t equivalence in the crimes, we can’t in one breath call for the punishment of the likes of Bram and Elgin and then say it’s wrong to do the same for Abbey. Again, while the victims of what Bram and Elgin have done have suffered a lot more, there are still victims of what Abbey has done, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

WrestleMania 33: Looking Up at the Lights, and Going Out on Your Back

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The Undertaker salutes the end of the greatest career pro wrestling will probably ever see. Credit: WWE

As someone who attaches emotion and meaning to everything I enjoy, WrestleMania is a very intense week for me, from the floods of tears during the Hall of Fame, to the Christmas-like anticipation for the event, to the awe I have watching it that will never go away. WrestleMania’s come and go, and whether they are good or bad, they are always significant – the platitudes about it being the ‘showcase of the immortals’ and ‘WrestleMania moments’ are, incredibly, not really exaggerated. I enjoyed WrestleMania 33 which I found to be consistently enjoyable, even if it lacked a real show-stealer match. The moment I can’t shift from my head (the reason we’re here) came at the very end, when Undertaker, after struggling to his feet following a loss to Roman Reigns, started to leave his gear in the ring. If there’s one thing Taker has always excelled at, it’s exuding meaning and emotion (despite often being near emotionless outwardly), and after he removes his hat for the final time, he takes this huge breath, a sigh not quite of relief, but of rest. The ride is finally over, and he can rest. I immediately burst in to tears.

I am going to write the qualifier I have seen several people write. The Undertaker wasn’t ‘my guy’, and yet there is something about him that seems to engender total respect and reverence. He’s not the best talker, but he is the best character; he’s not the best wrestler, but he does have some of the best matches ever. He understands wrestling and performance better than anyone, and takes it seriously, and everyone respects him for it. He might not be your favourite, but whenever you hear a gong, or see him toe to toe with someone, you know, almost by definition, that something significant is happening. He’s the best of pro-wrestling, and represents 20+ years of some of the most vivid, memorable years of it.

Perhaps that is why he is loved so. He has been a legitimising backbone of this crazy travelling roadshow we love and has dedicated himself to it longer, frankly, than his body would allow. He helped build WrestleMania and created many of it’s most special moments. His passing of the torch and leaving the ring no longer a warrior may well be a crucial moment in wrestling’s future, and it was sure one of the most moving in wrestling’s history.

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Undertaker, leaving his iconic hat and coat in the ring, symbolising the end of his storied career. Credit: WWE

Though I am more than happy to wax eulogistic about Undertaker’s career though, that beautiful end is only around half of the reason i’m writing this. Undertaker was the main reason I decided it was ‘now or never’ for attending WrestleMania 30 – I decided that I had to see him on his greatest stage before I lost the chance, I had to see that entrance. And I did. For that event though, I chose to wear a Bray Wyatt shirt. Bray has been a real darling of mine ever since I started watching him on NXT, and there are certainly similarities to Undertaker in him, mainly in his dedication to a character which bends the rules other characters play by, occasionally traipsing in to the supernatural. Wyatt, in fact, is a far better talker than Taker ever was, and with his commitment to every part of his character, I had never been so excited about the future of a wrestler and my related enjoyment of them.

The difference between him and Taker is, and remains, that it’s never really gone anywhere. At WrestleMania, I had the honour of seeing ‘The Streak’ broken, and the joy of seeing ‘Yes-tleMania’, but under that, I had the disappointment of seeing Wyatt fall to Cena when a victory could have really set him along the course of a phenom himself. The next year, Wyatt lost to Undertaker fairly handily to help Taker recover from the loss of the Streak, and then last year, Wyatt made the best of being booked alongside The Rock, but would never be able to overcome Rocky being important and easily murking him and his family. Wyatt has never won at WrestleMania, or really won a significant match on a big stage. His strength of character and performance though has seen him recover of late to the point where John Cena insisted on putting him over clean for the WWE Championship. A significant achievement for sure, but it lacks the historical significance that the real top guys have propping them up. The significance, say, of defeating The Undertaker in his final match.

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The Rock, delivering the People’s Elbow to Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 32 after quickly dispatching the rest of the ‘Family’. Credit: WWE

Writing this isn’t intended to throw shade at anyone other than the decision makers who booked Wyatt to lose this year, not even Orton, who probably could have spoken up to lose as Cena had earlier.

Part of the respect that the Undertaker commands without demanding it, is that he will always do what’s best for the business, and rule #1 in that regard is that, when you go out, you ‘go out on your back’, giving someone else the chance to profit from it, and by extension, the business. Roman Reigns has become something almost other to wrestling. For his part, Reigns has grown quietly but enormously as a performer, especially in recent months, and he was a big part of making Taker’s final match powerful and entertaining. He clearly hasn’t been handled quite right though, to the point where, regardless of his performances, he will be booed. Fans treat him like the most boring or lazy denominator almost regardless of what he does. Usually, the honour of ‘retiring’ The Undertaker would be the biggest lay-up of all time to stardom for a persons career, but whether that happens for Roman, remains to be seen. The hope is that either he will somehow inherit Taker’s inherent respect value (after all, this was a metaphorical transferring of ‘the yard’ to Reigns), or he can build a white hot heel run from his actions.

With Wyatt though, there is a feeling of complacency on management’s part in a way that may be due to his success at portraying the character. Losing in itself has never really seemed to damage Wyatt – he can always ‘turn it on’ and be mesmerising. But after years of constant losing on big stages, it’s hard not to see diminishing returns from him, regardless of his exceptional efforts. He recovered miraculously from it when he was reduced to comic jobber to The Rock, but this slip up when he had returned to his most powerful may be even more damaging.

Everything about his match at WrestleMania 33 seemed geared to be his moment, to showcase him in a way that suited only him. The most memorable part of the match was the recurring projections of imagery of death, disease, and pestilence on to the ring. Regardless of what people say in retrospect, coloured as it is by the match result, at the time, fans were losing their minds over this, including me. It was different, and though simple, was shocking due to both the fact it had never been done before, and the nature of the imagery. Initially, Orton and everyone else involved sold these projections. That is until Orton hit a trademark unexpected RKO for the win to become a 13 time champion. Wyatt falls short again.

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Though later mocked by some, the various visuals of decay projected by Wyatt on to Orton and the ring were shocking, and unlike anything ever seen before in WWE history. Credit: WWE

Again, with no disrespect to Randy Orton, why does he need a 13th championship here, at a time when Wyatt could have taken a big step towards lasting significance? The disgusting projections even provided him with a ‘get out’ for the loss. What do we get from this? Orton doesn’t need a win basically ever these days and can have whatever feud management want down the line. It has been suggested to me that this was the natural ending of the story – a point I understand, but it is also important to realise that sometimes (not often) the bad guy wins, and it could have lit a fire under Orton too. Meanwhile, Wyatt seems almost goofy for trying his antics in a loss. Even if he wins his rematch, it’s on a much smaller stage. If Wyatt wins this match as it was produced, he gets a big showcase win, a championship retention, and a memorable WrestleMania moment; what happened instead was people viewed him as a loser and started mocking the projections too. Once again, he was forgotten, looking up at the brightest lights there are, with management neglecting the gift he is. What happens to him in the weeks following this year’s WrestleMania and at next year’s Mania will be very telling about how damaging this was. I hope i’m wrong.

Most losses aren’t significant gestures to the future as Undertaker’s was, and it is there that him putting Reigns over in his final match will hopefully benefit him. There is a chance though, that it will just further complicate Reign’s relationship with the fans and be wasted. Further, Reigns is already treated like a top guy, and clearly will be going forward. It’s just a shame that another veteran in Randy Orton couldn’t put over Bray in a similar spot, and so the difference between Undertaker and Wyatt remains – one is an outlaw that went out on his back, and the other is a pretender that has been left on his back for three WrestleMania’s in a row. I can’t help but wish the stars had aligned a little differently, and the best Bray Wyatt had faced Underataker this year. Not only would their characters have gelled well once again, but Taker’s final sacrifice would have had the definite result of making Bray Wyatt, overnight, one of the most significant superstars in the world.

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After the fans were gone and the ring was being taken down, Undertaker’s hat and coat remained untouched in a startling and moving show of respect. Credit: @samirkh75387729 on Twitter

Thank you Undertaker.

 

 

 

 

How I Was Blindsided By The UK Championship Tournament and Fell Back in Love with UK Wrestling

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The scenes as Tyler Bate becomes ‘King of UK Wrestling’ Credit: Sky Sports

A recent article of mine considered the WWE’s UK Championship, what excited me about it, but more largely, what concerned me. I won’t rehash that here, but the result was a slight dampening of my excitement for the tournament. Nevertheless, I tuned in like a lot of interested fans from Britain and beyond, live over the weekend, and by the end of night two, I had joy in my heart, great memories, and a new top 5 favourite wrestler.

I have a lot of different interests in my life, as well as an increasing amount of obligations, and the result of that has been a real struggle to keep up with not only just indy wrestling but even WWE shows. On a weekly basis, I try to cover RAW, NXT, and Lucha Underground, and anything beyond that (usually ICW and the odd Japanese match) is a bonus. So going in to this tournament, I actually wasn’t that familiar with most of the field bar fellow Glaswegian, Wolfgang. While that is less familiarity than many of good wrestling twitter friends have with the field, I think it is probably the level of familiarity casual fans might have with the field, and it is from that perspective – among others – that I think this event was a success as many of these unfamiliar talents shone brightly and staked their claim to a future in the business. I will give do an annotated ranking of the field based on my impressions later, but first, I want to talk about the benefits of the tournament structure generally.

Watching the first night, I was enjoying the tournament. The setting of the Empress Ballroom, a place I have visited many times in my life having lived very close to Blackpool for a number of years, was perfect. Blackpool embodies the best flavours of the British style, it has a gritty glamour coming from a mix of carny magic, end-of-the-pier humour, and working-class hard work; and with William Regal overseeing it all, the setting was perfect. The wrestling was good too. Each match was fun, there were some cool, stiff spots, and there were some highlights including Jordan Devlin cheap-shotting Danny Burch for some major heat, and Pete Dunne’s end-of-show assault on Sam Gladwell which provided a nice narrative bridge over to night two. Maybe it is clear from my tone, but while I certainly enjoyed night one, I was by no means blown away. I was intrigued by Devlin and Dunne, but even then, it was still largely just a passing interest. By the end of night two, I was obsessed with Dunne. What I have since realised is that the careful booking of night one set up for a very powerful night two.

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The beautiful, historic, Empress Ballroom in Blackpool which hosted the tournament. Credit: Sky Sports

Tournaments of course build towards a final, so from a practical point of view, it makes sense for them to not blow the doors of night one and have to top it when it matters the next night, but at least in this case, night one played a very crucial role in setting the scene and defining the players. All 16 got to wrestle on night one and all 16 got to set out their stall and define their character and role in the tournament. Some who would go on to play major roles, including the eventual finalists, got to do even more between main-eventing and being the aggressor in the overnight angle, but everyone got to define their place in the tournament narrative.

As the tournament progressed to night two, the matches didn’t get any longer, but the intensity of the matches did grow, starting hot with the intensity of Sam Gladwell seeking revenge against Pete Dunne, Wolfgang and Trent Seven trading stiff shots and near-falls, Tyler Bate shocking himself against Wolfgang, and then stunning himself against the Bruiserweight. Just as the setting hearkened back to traditional British wrestling style (albeit with more contemporary move-sets), the booking was also very traditional, and that was at the heart of the joy of this event. Every match on night two was a pretty black & white face vs heel match up with the exception of Wolfgang vs Bate during which Wolfgang acted far more heelish than before in attitude if not in act; all leading to the undoubted top face taking on the undisputed top heel in the final.

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The tournament final with popular face Tyler Bate facing off against greasy heel Pete Dunne. Credit: WWE

As the tournament progressed and the pieces moved around, it became clear that the likely final would in itself also tell a very traditional story. Heel vs face, tutor vs student, and dastardly cheat vs injured hero. WWE on it’s grandest stages really struggles with this in the modern era, but this tournament and the finals exemplified how to do it perfectly. I want to talk about the individual wrestler’s later, but by the end of the show, Dunne had become a fascinating, must-see character to me. His actions were so cheap and brutal that he brought with him an electric anticipation and the promise of relished violence. Up until the semi-finals, many of the wrestlers had made an impression of me, but no one like Dunne – that was until Bate’s victory over Wolfgang with the crowd rising to their feet in unison as he hits his finish, at which point, Bate started standing out to me too as a great wrestler and determined babyface to counteract him. In the context of this tournament, they were made for each other.

I called Dunne attacking Bate from behind after the semi-finals – at this stage it would have been almost disingenuous for him not to, and that set up a traditional – almost cliche – story of the cocky heel cheating to get ahead and the injured face who is terribly injured and can’t possibly win but by God he’ll try anyway! Before the finals, I couldn’t see past Dunne winning, but as the story set itself up, it was clear it was only going one way, and despite the predictability of the result in that contextthe climax was no less satisfying. Dunne was undoubtedly the star of the show, but Bate became a star too and set up a very intriguing title picture going forward when the weekly shows start. The 19 year old incredible talent having a target on his back and a pissed off Dunne chasing him is going to make for a great challenge, especially as Dunne becomes more desperate.

I also have a more positive outlook about the upcoming UK WWE Network show now compared to when I wrote about WWE being potential cultural appropriators. I think the crucial element will be the the upcoming series will be produced in the UK rather than the US, and as a result, won’t have the same problem at least of unfavourably overlapping with the main roster. There won’t be any ham-fisted British section of RAW and Smackdown with red, white, and blue ropes or something. It will be a self-contained show from which i’m sure talent can be called up to the main roster, but otherwise, like NXT, it will be it’s own universe. It’s disappointing that the smaller home nations only had one representative each, and i’m not sure that Irish competitors should be included at all, so I hope that in future shows and tournaments that is rectified as each country certainly doesn’t have a lack of talent. There are also still issues around WWE defining British wrestling to a mainstream audience, but at the least, I am more confident that the show is going to be entertaining and successful without having to fit in with the whole other world of the main roster.

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Pete Dunne in maroon, fur, and with his mouth-guard which provides a unique look. Credit: Sky Sports

Since the end of the tournament, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, how great some of the talent is, when the regular show will start, and especially Pete Dunne, who’s understated and perfect ring music, I have been playing to myself all day. I started not knowing most of the talent and being a bit underwhelmed by the prospect, to having a new top 5 wrestler and being super excited about British wrestling and it’s place in the world. And all it took was simple storytelling and good wrestling. Fancy that.

So as promised, I will now rank (this is the world we live in) the wrestlers from the tournament, based purely on my memory of the tournament and the impression each man made. Some are at a disadvantage from losing in their first match, but that can’t be helped i’m afraid, and some still made a good impression despite that disadvantage:

16) Saxon Huxley
I don’t want to be too hard on Saxon as this was the first time I saw him, but he dropped like a lead balloon with me. His promo about believing society is an illusion and liking books seemed like a real stretch and didn’t translate to his action at all. He came out with a weird strange that just had me questioning his choices, and mixed with his wrestling not standing out much, he couldn’t get over with me. Maybe it works elsewhere, but this time, Huxley was just a joke – literally with many of my twitter pals.

15) James Drake
Drake suffered from being the second most important competitor in a pretty dull match after Cole couldn’t stop talking up his opponent Joseph Conners. Drake’s promo was by the numbers and he did nothing else to really stand out.

14) H.C. Dyer
Watching Dyer’s pre-match promo, I was quite interested in him. The calm way he described getting pleasure from striking people was interesting and gave him some intensity, though it seemed to be all he had. Though he smartly managed to translate the promo to his match with some nice striking, he got overshadowed by Trent Seven in a short match during which he didn’t do much to stand out.

13) Roy Johnson
Roy Johnson’s lack of experience told quite strongly in his appearance, both in the way he spoke and to a lesser extent, how he wrestled. He wasn’t a bad dance partner for Dunne though and he was at least offering something different to most of his contemporaries in terms of his ‘wavy’ gimmick. With some more experience he could be quite an exciting competitor, and he was a welcome change of pace in the field.

12) Dan Moloney
His high placement is almost exclusively due to his pre-match promo. Again, he was a good opponent for Mark Andrews, but that match was more about showing the high-flying Welshman. Despite that, Moloney’s intense promo about things he’d seen and how he had no regard for anyone else’s safety spoke to the sort of dark promo I generally like.

11) Joseph Conners
Conners was at an early disadvantage when Cole made him his early pick for the tournament. Though Cole gives off the impression of a respected and knowledgable veteran announcer (which he os of course), his history of nonsense and general lack of popularity makes him, for lack of a better term, an uncool person to be associated with. His opening match with James Drake wasn’t much to write home about though he elevated his game against Andrews in the second round. Some decent working, but another somehat bland character that said he was intense more than showed it.

10) Tucker
Tucker didn’t get much of a chance to showcase himself being in only one match, but he was a good part of a good match with Tyler Bate which headlined the show. Bate was the star of it, but he was helped by Tucker who made it a good match and seemed like he could go over. His Super Duper Kick looked good and he could no doubt play a good role in future outings.

9) Trent Seven
This is probably a lot lower than most would have him. Seven is clearly loved by parts of the crowd, and as a wrestler, he has a pretty cool stiff style, but from the start, he rubbed me up the wrong way. His character is that he has facial hair. It’s basically all he talks about, and it’s hardly even unique when you consider there is Tyler Bate in this tournament and Jack Gallagher elsewhere in WWE who gets how to do a full-blooded gimmick that involves that sort of aesthetic rather than the aesthetic being the gimmick. If Trent Seven shaves his facial hair, who is he? Another good wrestler.

8) Danny Burch
Danny Burch made quite a leap here. On NXT, he has had impressive moments, but is basically a jobber. Here, he was in the shape of his life, and played a gristled veteran perfectly. He wrestles very neat and powerfully and seemed a totally different prospect here. I was surprised that he went out early in fact because it seemed there were more depths to mine with him. Hopefully he can take that veteran edge to upcoming shows if he doesn’t go back to NXT.

7) Tyson T-Bone
Tyson T-Bone was totaly unlike the rest of the field, even the ones who stood out because this guy just seemed like a guy who got by with fighting. I don’t know if there are many travellers who have made it to the wrestling scene because it seems like it would go hand in hand with it traditionally, but it seems pretty unique. Tyson had a really warm rogue style character and gave us the line that he asks the Virgin Mother for forgiveness whenever he hits someone. He managed to somehow mesh well with the more traditional style of Wolfgang and had a good match.

6) Sam Gladwell
When I first saw Sam Gladwell, he was a little close to home. As I mentioned I used to live in the area of Blackpool, and he just seemed a little too earnest while seeming quite pale and even sickly. Boy though, Gladwell really got over with me, partly with thanks to others and booking. His first match wasn’t anything too incredible, but after being attacked by Dunne, he came back the next night with a great intensity. His match with Dunne was really good, and he played his character of pissed off victim looking for revenge but falling short perfectly. He went from being a bit of a local goober to being a fiery local hero.

5) Jordan Devlin
Ignoring the fact that Devlin isn’t British, he started off in a bit of hole resulting from his pre-match promo where he talked about being Finn Balor’s student – the problem being that he styled himself almost exactly after Balor. Given how he acted later, that may even have been an intentional setup to a frustrated character. His match with Burch was hard hitting and fun, and though the finish was quite confusing, it made an impression. I thunk the blood was probably a coincidence which further muddied the water, but the dusty finish was something Devlin totally took advantage of. The superkick after the match made an impact, but what I liked more was his post-match promo in which he complimented himself on a ‘convincing’ victory. Great heel stuff and part of a good match.

4) Mark Andrews
I don’t want to be too disrespectful but I found Mark Andrew’s character pretty milquetoast with his high-fivin’ antics. Saying that, Andrews sttod out in the ring. More than a high flyer, he did high-flying things that were extra impressive and crisply executed. Each of his matches were strong to very strong and he got over pretty well. He reminded me a lot of Evan Bourne, leading me to calling him Ifan Bourne (sorry), but that’s certainly no insult.

3) Wolfgang
I’m pretty biased here in that Wolfgang was the only wrestler i’d seen significantly before the tournament, and I generally enjoy ICW, and always enjoy Glasgow folk, but here, Wolfgang sure cemented himself as a big talent. There are a lot of big hairy Scottish guys, and many are talented, but Wolfgang has that and more. He showed off his entire moveset at the tournament, flipping all over the place and no matter how much you see that, it’s always amazing seeing someone with that sort of body do that. We also proved himself really easy to like, but when he went up against Bate who got more adulation, took it in his stride and acted in a more heelish manner. He certainly impressed and was one of the most memorable parts of the show.

2) Tyler Bate
Tyler Bate was a slow burner with me. Though I like the thing in his promo where he names his different fists and showed how he’s sucker punch people with his left (that’s a Stan Laurel move, by the way), the way he delivered it was kinda lame. His match with Tucker was good, but it was really his semi-final with Wolfgang where it all came together. The clash of styles was fantastic, and Bate started to show a really deep and emotional level of wrestling. I will never forget that moment, not when he gets the 3 count against Woflie, but when he gets him up for his finish because the crowd goes WILD with anticipation for him winning. That is a specific kind of magic that only wrestling can create, and it was the start of an emotional final chapter of the night. Him getting over his teacher while carrying a severe injury was, as I say, cliched, but it was the right move and it really worked. He is a great choice for champion, and for crying out loud, he’s only 19. He could be a very big deal in the future.

1) Pete Dunne
And then we have Pete Dunne. In retrospect, I noticed Dunne from the start. It’s just a small thing, but in the promotional videos before the event, there were glimpses of each guy, and with respect, about 10 of them look very similar to each other. The person who stood out to me each time was Dunne with his mouth guard. I didn’t think much of it, but now it’s clear that that’s just part of what makes him great. Dunne had my attention at the end of the first night, but even then, it just seemed like an interesting angle, but by the end of the night, he was the most intriguing, exciting talent by quite a long way. One thing that was clear even after the first night though was the magic chemistry he has with Regal. Wearing maroon, intense, dastardly, and wrestling incredibly stiff, the comparison is impossible to ignore. People come up with dream matches for Regal consistently, but this is the one that makes most sense, and if Regal does have one more match in him, this would be perfect. Dunne is like a second coming of Regal, but with his own edge on the character – he has a lot of Regal’s qualities, but adds a level of impatience and entitlement which make him all the more slimy and easy to dislike. There’s so much more, and I won’t write at too much length about it, but from not being afraid to look slimy and horrible with his hair all over the place and the effect of the mouth-guard, to following through on his character away from the promo which is something a lot of the guys here didn’t do. In his promo, he said that he wouldn’t let anyone get in his way to his title, and he showed this throughout the tournament. He beat up Gladwell to get an advantage, he attacked Bate from behind to get an advantage, and then mercilessly went after them to try and win. For all the talking each wrestler did, too, I would argue that it was only really Dunne who stood out as consistently dangerous and brutal. The short Japanese history he refers to in his promo shines through in the way he suplexes and throws people down or on to things, melding it with the traditionally British trait of using the ring as a weapon. He fell short in the tournament, but I think it could create even more of a monster. To me, this is the most exciting wrestler in my universe right now.

The Connecticut Raiders: Will WWE’s Diversification Create a Stylistic Suppression?

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The unveiling of the locked-in talent for WWE’s UK tournament. Credit to Wrestlezone

The influx of diverse, international talent to WWE that has accelerated over the past year is in many ways a positive shift for wrestling from a top-down perspective. WWE being the undisputed mainstream leader in professional wrestling while making a Cruiserweight show and upcoming tournaments for women’s and British wrestling jewels in their Network crown gives those divisions arguably more significance and recognition than ever before. Something strange has happened with the Cruiserweights though – following the acclaim of the Crusierweight Classic and the excitement for the impending division on RAW, interest in the division has decreased rapidly. This could be due to lacklustre booking, but there it was perhaps the opening salvo of a more insidious trend from WWE; one of humouring, appropriating, and watering down styles to the detriment of everyone involved.

This entire article should be prefaced with a very clear determination: the introduction of the Cruiserweight Classic, 205 Live, and the Upcoming Women’s and UK tournaments provide a huge upgrade on the previous slew of secondary programming that was available in Superstars and Main Event. These were shows which featured great talent, but due to them just being extra shows full of under-carders, they felt like insignificant drains on time.

These new demographic-based platforms are certainly not the same kind of afterthought. They feature self-contained feuds, challenges, and championships which instantly gives the action more gravitas (whether you enjoy the booking, however, is another matter). The problem is that that this gravitas doesn’t carry over to their main roster appearances. The Cruiserweights are instead brought out as a sideshow act with little opportunity to establish a character to the RAW audience or even to talk to them. They get their own ropes, and their own scripted platitudes from the commentators. This setup, strange as it is, could gain momentum if the action matched the speed and unique style of the Cruiserweight Classic, but instead their appearances on RAW feel like a watered-down version of the CWC style, mixed with the classic WWE style of wrestling, and so, save for a few highspots, the action doesn’t even particularly stand out. Imagine it this way: how damaging would a WWE ‘Lucha Classic’ in which they hired the likes of Pentagon Jr, El Dragon Azteca Jr, Fenix, Drago, and King Cuerno, and then had them all wrestle like Alberto Del Rio? I loved Del Rio at times, but that being popularised as Lucha would be a troubling prospect, and I fear that something similar is happening with the cruiserweights.

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The Cruiserweights have ‘arrived’ on the main roster, but they seem like outsiders. Credit: WWE

As it stands, the Cruiserweights are barely in the same ‘Universe’ as the main roster guys. Kalisto and Neville have gotten involved, but they seem to have to trade in their main roster credentials to do so. There doesn’t seem to be any prospect of Cruiserweights getting involved in another championship picture, and so it’s hard to place where they stand in the universe. With the purple ropes and the arms-length treatment of the Cruiserweights, they are simply portrayed as a less significant sideshow who can’t live up to the hype that was built for them.

What is more concerning in the case of the upcoming UK show as well as the cruiserweights is that, there is some degree of appropriation and softening of the styles involved. I’m a fan of the WWE style generally, but I also value the diverse range of styles around the world, and while even WWE could never, and probably aren’t even trying to, subsume the styles, the influx of talent to them and the incorporation of their style in to the WWE style will affect at least the perception of the different styles among audiences. I think it’s clear, so far, that the Cruiserweights haven’t been replicating some of the feats they had on the indy circuit, and while it remains to be seen with regards to the UK tournament, it will be interesting to see if they will be able to fully showcase the stiff, technical style of the UK when they start making weekly shows. WWE rightly loves to remember this fondly in the likes of William Regal and Fit Finlay, but if the UK division goes the same way as the Cruiserweight is currently going, it will amount to a sad appropriation – and conservatism – of the style.

The reality of WWE stealthily raiding talent from federations around the world is nothing new, but it seems to certainly have accelerated in the last year or two. Of course, WWE are well within their rights to source this talent, and in many ways as mentioned before, it is good for wrestling generally as it broadens WWE’s stylistic output and provides beloved indy wrestlers with well-deserved financial and career opportunities, it does simultaneously deplete the more accessible talent that local indy fans can enjoy, and as in the case of the UK tournament, not always for noble reasons. WWE reportedly only pulled the trigger on that project in response to them being unhappy with the prospect of ITV’s World of Sport reboot being shown on a more visible platform than WWE’s regular programming here in the UK. Of course that still wouldn’t make a dent in the WWE’s profits or success, but they are so predatory that they simply won’t allow it, leading them to the move of signing wrestlers to their upcoming tournament, and even – reportedly – no-compete clauses with televised competitors, regardless of whether they ever appear for WWE.

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Glasgow and the UK lost the ‘Best in the Universe’ when WWE signed Nikki Storm, Credit: ICW

As a native of Glasgow, I’m lucky enough to have internationally-respected ICW on my doorstep, and while I’m excited for the futures of the likes of ICW alums Nikki Cross and Big Damo, and am excited about the opportunities new talent will get at the indy level to replace them, the sheer aggression of WWE’s recent programming moves are concerning, and it’s because of the apparent shift in motivation. It seems to be less about creating a diverse roster that will appeal to a more international audience, and increasingly about creating content and protecting their business model. I don’t get the feeling that any of the new cruiserweights can really break out beyond their division, and I feel even less confident about the upcoming UK division which seems to have been set up with an arbitrary aggression rather than a plan to make stars. WWE is already achingly overexposed, but the only shows that matter, and are really treated like they matter, are RAW, Smackdown and NXT.

In the case of the upcoming Women’s tournament, I have fewer concerns, actually, with regards to how significant the participants will feel after it’s finished. WWE is signing female talent left, right, and centre, and seems keen to take women’s wrestling more seriously, even if they don’t always succeed. Cynically however, part of the reason the participants in this event may be safer points to the very problem they are addressing: that they are being treated like a niche product in themselves compared to the other niches they are exploring, which are all subsets of male wrestling styles. My one concern is  relatively small because it represents a gigantic improvement from the days of the Attitude Era, but again, with WWE having the biggest platform, they will subconsciously redefining what women’s wrestling is to the mainstream audience. Bayley and Sasha in Brooklyn is my personal female wrestling nirvana (one of my wrestling nirvanas regardless of gender, in fact), but while, with some, it’s a controversial proposition, there are some incredible female wrestlers doing incredible work with men – thinking especially of the work of Lucha Underground. The power of that work will not be diminished and inter-gender wrestling will continue to exist around the world, but as women’s wrestling becomes more prominent and significant in WWE, and what they do or don’t becomes more impactful, it could be that those paying attention to it see the women wrestlers as elite, but then see a normalised version of them tagging out of challenges with men. That not only limits their art and the stories they can tell, but in my opinion, provides a mixed message for the young boys and girls who are watching.

I desperately want to be proven wrong in my concerns about the new shows and influx of new talent, but until these new initiatives start to feel like they really constitute part of the significant future if the company, it will continue to produce great matches by great wrestlers that feel like they are limited in the impact they can have due to their presentation. As I have said previously, the impact of this may be small as alternative wrestling seems only to be growing worldwide, but it will certainly be interesting to see whether WWE’s demographically-based broadening of their umbrella has the effect of similar conquerors: water down and incorporate.

Lucha Underground, WWE and the Importance of Quiet Time

Introductory Note: I am a very big fan of Lucha Underground, the unique presentations it’s given us, and what they are broadly trying to do. I also know that given the near universal acclaim for the federation, aspects of this article could come across as contrarian. Frankly, maybe it is, but that comes from a high standard I have held Lucha Underground to since the first season.

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The explosive finish to Pentagon Jr’s central role in Lucha Underground’s first season. The quiet time between this and the start of season 2 allowed for Pentagon to become even more infamous and made his return to the Temple in season 2 even more anticipated. Credit: cagesideseats.com

As a person who has been interested in writing for a long time as well as enjoying various narrative driven forms of entertainment, I have recently been thinking about pacing, and more specifically, the importance of ‘quiet time’ after re-watching the excellent Super Bunnyhop video on the topic with regards to video games. Naturally, I soon began thinking about quiet time in relation to wrestling, and that will be the main focus of this article. WWE doesn’t – and takes a degree of pride in not – allow any real quiet time while Lucha Underground, split as it is in to seasons, does, but with mixed results.

Though i’m aware there are other federations – Chikara, for instance – who present their wrestling in series, the only one I’ve personally consumed in consecutive order is Lucha Underground. In a period where television ‘box-sets’ are probably the most revered form of visual entertainment, Lucha Undergorund has fit in with that trend by having long episodic seasons with respective ‘Ultima Luchas’ serving as season finalés; and for me as a wrestling fan, this was a new and welcome world. From a starting position of being just another new wrestling product, Lucha Underground used episodes with logical arcs within a unique, pulpy, and somewhat supernatural universe populated by a couple of handfulls of determined, fleshed-out characters to become arguably the most respected wrestling project in the world. This ride culminated in Ultima Lucha, an event where stories were paid off or evolved via fantastic, high-octane matches. Then it dis something almost unheard of in wrestling when the heat is white hot – it pressed pause:

Not only was it objectively beautiful television, but it actively invited you to rest – the phrasing of that tweet saying “Good night.” is no mistake. Series 2 of Lucha Underground didn’t appear for nearly 6 months, and in that time, there was nothing else to do but to reflect on what we had seen, and look forward to a new series. During the series, I loved the wrestling and many of the characters, but it was in the intervening months and discussions with fellow fans that the beauty of it came to it’s highest clarity. I longed for Pentagon Jr and fell in love with his theme music, playing it on endless repeat, I argued the case for LU’s unflinching inter-gender matches, and I wondered at how far LU could go with the signing of possibly the greatest Luchadors ever (and among the greatest pro wrestlers ever, period). I also realised that beyond their matches being great, Lucha Underground was actually built on marquee matches that totally reinvigorated established gimmick matches such as the casket match and the ironman match almost like a calling card, while also providing a strong structure for the first season’s arc. I rooted for the wrestlers and promotion to return, and when it did, it did so with a huge amount of good will and currency to keep trying new things.

That is the essence of the benefits of ‘quiet time’ – when you are enjoying something, it having the ability to pause or slow down provides you with the opportunity to reflect either actively or passively, on what the story is, or what you are enjoying  about it or not. The Super Bunnyhop video of course uses the excellent example of narrative video games, but it applies to any form of narrative-driven entertainment. It’s why ‘special events’ in wrestling usually have a less consequential match or two, sometimes with comic relief, between a marquee match and the main event; you can reflect on the marquee match and get it out of your system, take a breath, and be ready for the main event. It’s also why fantasy booking is so prevelent between wrestling fans (and indeed, outside of wrestling under different auspices). It’s because when you are enjoying a storyline or a wrestlers work (such as, recently, The Miz’s Talking Smack promo), you become extra engaged and become keen to join the journey being presented. On the other hand of course, it rears it’s head when fans aren’t enjoying the product. Wrestling engenders loyalty – for it’s sins it embraces fans in to a dysfunctional family, and when you love something like that, you want it to be better. So when the show fades to black, and you’re angry about Cena or Reigns winning (or whatever your preference is), many people thing ‘it would be so much better if…’, and you get to live that fantasy out, if even in your head. Outside of wrestling, quiet time is why season premieres and finales are so significant – they are preceded by or followed by it, which in itself marks it as significant, and provides fans with that crucial time for reflection.

When you’re having your mind blown by a fresh, innovative and exciting federation filled with brutal, high flying, and emotionally charged action set in a supernatural temple, the weekly episode of Monday Night RAW started to really struggle to grab your attention. I have said to many people in private that, for it’s sins, I think WWE ultimately does the best overall job of presenting high quality, compelling wrestling (WrestleMania 30, for instance); however it goes through waves of staleness, sometimes feeling like it’s spinning wheels until WrestleMania season. While some of that can be righteously blamed on lacklustre writing and a business model which clearly favours pouring resources and creativity in to it’s January – April programme, it is notable that WWE programming never stops. Less than 24 hours after the end of each year’s WrestleMania, which is one of the few places where stories are ever conclusively wrapped up, WWE and it’s fans are right back in the saddle for the annual, crazy, Post-Mania RAW. After 4 months of intense build to an insane spectacle though – post-Mania RAW aside – the WWE noticeably slows down, seemingly mailing in a month or two of wrestling.

In a sense, this period is a still a form of quiet time by virtue of how noticeably slower and less explosive it is, but there is still no real opportunity to reflect because the wrestlers you’ve just watched make history are off doing something else and there are new stories to focus on. Not only are the writers and general production notably a gear or two lower in the period, but many of the wrestler clearly are too – still working hard of course and having some cool moments, but taking a natural step back following WrestleMania. At a time when WWE seems to suffer from injury bouts with a degree of regularity, the wrestlers seem to be in need of down time physically as well as mentally, and this has been something I’ve supported for a long time, despite the fact that WWE’s business acumen means that such a move is hugely unlikely.

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HHH’s return from injury in 2002 came with much emotion and fanfare, despite the fact that he was a top heel before his injury. Credit: WWE

The brand split complicates this somewhat as they work on a different calendar, but speaking broadly, I think a ‘Good night.’ moment – admittedly with a much more sports-like, explosive tone – at the end of a WrestleMania could help create a more focused and efficient product. Can you imagine how hyped pretty much everyone would be for the first Monday Night RAW following a 2-month layover? Rested wrestlers, writers who have had time to plan stories in advance and fans who have missed seeing their favourite wrestlers and have missed regular accessible wrestling while reflecting on what happened at a historic WrestleMania event; all of this points to not only ratings and a better product, but a more beloved product. A microcosm of this that does currently occur in WWE is when wrestlers return from long injury layoffs or just time away from the show. Regardless of whether wrestlers are heels or faces, their returns are nearly uniformally – though partly depending on their standing beforehand.- met with huge pops. ‘Returns’ often feature among my favourite wrestling narrative moments, and I think the reason is that it represents an instant change to the landscape (see:’Universe) and usually reinvigorates the show.

On a bigger scale, where everyone essentially returns, the ‘season premieres’ of RAW would be huge cultural events in the wrestling world and maybe beyond. To extend the concept somewhat, I think that with a ‘mid-season finale/re-premiere’ after Survivor Series, for instance, and taking one or two PPVs out of the calendar, I think the pacing of the WWE calendar would be much more effective at facilitating exciting, interesting storytelling and programming more consistently.

Now, to return to Lucha Underground’s Temple, I’m going to, on face value, contradict a lot of what I just argued.

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Joey Ryan was a big coup for Lucha Underground’s second season, and while entertaining, his role on the show was part of a (so far) poorly defined sub-plot that didn’t really amount to anything. Credit: Lucha Underground

Well, not really, but I would like to take some time to critique a slow downturn in quality from Lucha Underground from that Ultima Lucha high-point and do so while cautioning that ‘quiet time’ alone isn’t an automatic benefit for storytellers. Specifically, while the period was great for the fans, the writers and showrunners got ever so slightly out of their groove. The limited roster of carefully drawn characters was populated by quite a few more characters who seemingly received slightly less attention each. Taya entered the Temple and became a well-drawn, easily established character following her match with (they call him) Cage, but compared to that, characters like Daga, PJ Black, Kobra Moon, Maripoza and more seemed directionless and – relatively – unimportant. Of course, as the number of characters grew, the share for each, and for each story’s quiet time, lessened. Matches always came thick and fast in Lucha Underground but initially there was a more manageable array of characters that meant each one could be reflected on.

While the addition of Rey Mysterio, the king of luchadors, made sense, the influx of indie talent untimately damaged the series. My impression of the second series was that it took a long time to get any sort of momentum and shortly after, it was time for Ultima Lucha Dos. The mainstay gimmick matches of Aztec Warfare and Grave(r) Consequences remained, but didn’t seem to add anything fresh like they did in series one. Finally, the impact of Ultima Lucha Dos seemed diminished as the tight booking of season 1 seemed to fade away with Black Lotus’s long awaited debut being interfered in, Pentagon’s journey to the top being spoiled, and the whole thing being spread over 3 ostensibly normal episodes to allow for it all. It felt less special and less impactful, and getting back to the concept of quiet time, I think that if there wasn’t such a long layover, the showrunners wouldn’t have added so much padding to the production and season 2 would have been executed with much more satisfaction. The quiet time could have, and maybe should have been used to help improve the show even more from season 1, but in reality i’m afraid that the devil made work for their idle hands.

Marty the Moth brandishes a missile - this was how 'WMD's were used in this great match which was spoiled by empty aesthetics.

Marty the Moth brandishes a missile – this was how ‘WMD’s were used in this great match which was spoiled by empty aesthetics.

The matches happen at the same rate as always, but you may not see some characters for a few weeks – but instead of that providing quiet time to reflect, memories of their character and purpose are almost saved over with recency bias for other people you have seen more recently. These cracks have really started to show now that season 3 has begun. Roughly the same amount of talent remains, but everything seems more rushed and less well designed. For me, a great example was the WMD match. As ever, the wrestlers ‘left it all out there’ – objectively, it was a great match with a great finish, but it seemed like much more than ever before, the story elements were skin deep. Marty the Moth had suggested he was ‘done’ with Killshot, but it seems LU bookers liked the idea of an army themed match and so we had WMD. The fantasy universe of LU means it can give it’s gimmicks more (or ‘graver’) consequences. Speaking of Grave Consequences, we know no one really died, but the incredible presentation based on the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ and Konnan never being seen again in the aftermath really gave that match mythic status. With ‘WMD’ how do you live up to that? Wrestlers use guns as melee weapons, which is insane, they use 20th C-looking weapons crates which seem at best, as dangerous as other surfaces, and at worst, flimsy. Worse was Matt Striker who just seemed to take it as an opportunity to throw in as many ill-judged war puns as possible, including some incredibly ill-thought-out comments about Syrian refugees and Melissa Santos being potential ‘spoils of war’. This was a great match spoiled – for me – by the empty aesthetics of it that couldn’t live up to the WMD moniker.  It would have been saved to a large degree by calling it something like a ‘Warzone’ match which would set the scene without clipping it’s wings. That is down to the talented by bloated roster not being able to fit in to a 1 hour-per episode season and writers rushing to fit too much in to each episode and not being able to dedicate as much effort to their marquee matches living up to their excellent track record of previous marquee matches.

That seems a lot more scathing than the show – which I still very much enjoyed at times – deserves, but as I say, the stellar work of season 1 raised it’s standards for me. Shortly after the end of Ultima Lucha Dos, it was revealed that Lucha Underground would be back after just over 1 month. Suddenly, it started to seem that Lucha Underground was maybe being rushed through, and the welcome breath that the break between season allowed before seemed to be lacking. Knowing how far Lucha Underground is now taoed in advance, and that large parts of seasons 2 and 3 were taped back to back, it’s clear that while there is still a (much shorter) break between seasons, it is no longer part of the creative process of the show. The break feels like just that, a pause, and not a deliberate point of reflection for the viewer that gives us time to miss the show; and while the diminishing return I have found with Lucha Underground is a slow one, I already personally feel that the lack of quiet time between Lucha Underground seasons has hurt the quality of season 3 which feels like it’s just picking up where the second series finished rather than creating new and interesting story arcs. That may not even be accurate, but the lack of quiet time to stop and smell the roses has masked whatever identity the third season has so far.

Lucha Underground season 1 was perhaps the most successful and noteworthy wrestling achievement, at least in terms of quality, in recent wrestling history, and seasons 2 and what has begun of 3 are certainly still loaded with great, brutal, innovative matches – I just hope it can reclaim some of the attention to detail and efficiency it once had, and continue to be a treat.