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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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.