I like to think that I approach pro wrestling, and all other forms of entertainment that I devote time to, with a positive outlook. You’ve got to try and see the best in things, otherwise what’s the point. You’ll just become an angry person. Sometimes I find my patience tested. This happened last night when I bought the Preston City Wrestling “Tribute To The Troops” iPPV, their first attempt at this type of thing.
Bit of story time before we start on the show itself: over a decade ago I started taking an interest in British wrestling. The FWA was on The Wrestling Channel and that was all very exciting. There were wrestlers I’d seen in ROH and CZW like Jonny Storm, Jody Fleisch and Doug Williams, and I was introduced to exciting local guys like Zebra Kid, Jack Xavier, Ross Jordan, Spud and numerous others. Plus less exciting wrestlers like Hade Vansen. The FWA tried to expand too quickly and they died (aside from a few attempts at revivals over the following years). In the following years the import culture seemed to take control; the big shows I was hearing about were the supershows, the Universal Uproar, International Showdown types. Not to say these were bad shows; far from it in fact, but these weren’t products that would have been enjoyable in the long run. As one-offs, great fun. More than that and you get 1PW, and you don’t want 1PW. That’s also not to say that there wasn’t great British wrestling going on elsewhere, it’s just not what you were hearing about.
Fast forward to 2016 and British wrestling is in a better place. Promotions like PROGRESS, Fight Club Pro and ATTACK! are built around homegrown talent, supplemented by the occasional international talent but strong enough to survive without them. ICW will go mad on occasion and get Mick Foley in for one of their bigger shows but their Friday Night Fight Club shows are built around a solid base of regular favourites, and when they tour about the country they bring in appropriate local heroes (like Jimmy Corkhill in Liverpool). Revolution Pro’s big shows feature imports as a stronger selling point but their home roster is again strong. The key here is perhaps less how many imports you’re bringing in and more how you present them. It’s good to bring in an outsider to enhance your product, maybe put over your next great star or do something that enhances an existing storyline. Something that’ll actually benefit the promotion later on when you might not have those big names to rely on. Less good is just bringing in outsiders to wrestle outsiders and do their match (1PW did this a lot, booking AJ Styles vs. Chris Daniels vs. Samoa Joe on shows not peppered with many other names who would’ve benefited from the increased exposure). The worst is when you can see the talent you’ve flown in treating their booking like an old boy’s reunion, like a lads holiday. When you can almost see the “£5 for an 8×10, £5 for a photo” signs during the entrances. That brings me to this PCW show.
The PCW Tribute To The Troops shows are intended as more of a family affair, it’s a charity event really, so everyone’s having a good time. When they send Cena and the boys to a military base you don’t usually see him and Owens go full on Reseda for 30 minutes. This show went a bit beyond that. The imports were Chris Masters, Rob Van Dam, Ken Anderson and Billy Gunn (a real Four Horsemen, not in a wrestling sense but in a “there’s an impending apocalypse and look how fucked we are, oh god my flesh is burning” sense). Masters, who’s been a regular over here for a while, brawled with Iestyn Rhys after answering his “Alpha Lock” challenge. This was fine, it built to a future match, everyone seemed pretty hyped to be able to flex along with the Masterpiece’s entrance, a good time for all involved. I respect Chris Masters and there’s no need to come to my house to shout, okay. The other three, however… not so good.
Gunn and Anderson wrestled as a team named “The New Age Assholes”, combining Gunn’s most notable tag team with Anderson’s perpetual state of arrested development. It amazed me that Anderson was teaming with Billy fucking Gunn and he came across like the bigger man child. Billy Gunn. Mr. Ass. They wrestled the UK Hooligans in a match that could have gone one of two ways. It could have been like a weird WAR match where the old American men rocked up and, fuck what you know lads, you’re wrestling the Hooligans style. Or they could have had a holiday camp match. They had a holiday camp match. The ending saw some gay panic occur that somehow resulted in the Hooligans winning. Zak Knight said he actually quite liked Billy Gunn Fameassering (?!) his face into Ken Anderson’s love length after the match though so it was progressive in that sense. This match felt like it should have taken place about fifteen years ago and was quite difficult to enjoy even on an ironic level.
RVD, meanwhile, wrestled Lionheart. Now, the powers that be have informed me that I must begin by reiterating that Lionheart is indeed a fanny, and not a very interesting wrestler, but I was under the impression that he was quite a prominent star in PCW. With that in mind, this match probably shouldn’t have resembled the main event of Sunday Night Heat, where Lionheart was basically a warm body employed to take all of RVD’s high flying moves at a glacial speed before losing clean to his finisher. RVD in 2016 is like the CHIKARA slow motion spot taken to its horrific conclusion. A man living that life. You probably shouldn’t have a man you want to book in the future look like such an afterthought. I’ve seen wrestlers portraying security guards on Monday nights emerge with more credibility. Some people still love RVD but it was during this match, as the commentators seemingly read his Wikipedia page (they somehow got through all the marijuana references before his entrance had finished), that I began to question whether this was actually worth the £3 I’d paid. The stream was actually perfect all night, a rarity for a pro wrestling show, but the show was bad. Perhaps the WWN streams were trying to hide us from the terrible truth all along, that pro wrestling is actually bad and seems way better when viewed as a slideshow accompanied by a hissing sound.
The main event saw Sha Samuels defend his PCW title against Drew Galloway. Both guys worked very hard and the match was totally fine but I’d mentally checked out by the time this happened. Plus there was a raffle before the match that they inexplicably refused to air on the broadcast, an absolute disgrace. The booking was also a bit weird, as the referee (the heroic Joel) ejected Sha’s London mates Sammy Smooth and the London Riots, only for the match to immediately be made into a no disqualification match. Those lads that got thrown out? They ran back in later. These kind of logical oversights aren’t really a new thing in wrestling but it’s a bit more glaring when you seem to be gambling on your audience having the memory of a goldfish. The finish saw Sha’s mates run in to help him choke Galloway out for the win, only for the match to be restarted as a three way with Noam Dar inserted as a surprise. That match ended after 30 seconds with Dar winning the title after a load of other babyfaces chased Smooth and the Riots off. This seemed like a bit of a waste of whatever they’re building with Sha and his stable, hotshotting the title onto Dar because hey, he was just in America, that’ll get some attention, but that was probably one of the easier things to forgive on this show. Plus Noam Dar’s a cool dude with a strong Twitter game, give him all the belts.
One of the most disappointing things about this is that I actually enjoy the majority of the wrestlers on this show and I know that outside of this environment they’re capable of much more. Galloway, Samuels, Noam, great wrestlers. The opener with Charlie Garrett, Bubblegum, Sammy Smooth and Martin Kirby was a lot of fun and Joey Hayes is a top lad. Joe Hendry’s a really entertaining character and a fine wrestler who was inexplicably reduced to wrestling a bizarre two minute tag match where he teamed with a man who won Britain’s Got Talent. That’s what they said anyway, he looked nothing like a dog to me. The London Riots and Team Single are two of my favourite tag teams in the UK and they had a match that wasn’t much fun. Toni Storm, who’s really fucking good, tried her best to have an actual wrestling match with Carmel Jacob while Saraya Knight stormed around assaulting fans (although that was actually one of the most entertaining bits of the show). All of that made it quite annoying to see so many extremely talented wrestlers on such a disappointing show. I’d compare it to Major League Wrestling but they actually booked some interesting matches for the time (Super Dragon vs. Chris Daniels springs to mind), they were just inexplicably sub-par.
All of the above comes with a caveat: this may not have been for me. I like to think I view wrestling with an open mind and can see why people would enjoy other things, even if I may not enjoy them myself. Maybe the kids and families who attended it really enjoyed it. The first wrestling show I attended wasn’t really a wrestling show, it was glorified pantomime at the Stockport Apollo featuring actors portraying the classic WWF stars of the time. I vaguely recall the Scotty 2 Hotty guy being very good at his job, the man playing Kane had a shockingly good costume, and the attempt at The Rock wasn’t close. Fuck, wasn’t even close to The Smoke. I also attended a WWA show where I lost my mind for Scott Steiner and Road Dogg. Kids sometimes get excited for dumb shit. I get it. If you did watch this show and enjoyed it, fair enough, who am I to tell anyone they can’t enjoy something?
However, the problem PCW may have run into here is that this is their first iPPV and it may have been a lot of people’s first impression of the promotion. This is a problem because when you put something on iPPV not a lot of little kids are gonna bother with that (they’ll just torrent it). You expose your product to a wider audience and you might suffer a bit if that audience doesn’t like it. Preston City Wrestling obviously do a lot of things right since they’ve been going for years and, from what I’ve heard, have a business model that makes a lot of sense for them, so they’re not pissing money away. As noted, the iPPV experience itself was perfect and the price was more than reasonable. That aspect genuinely means a lot to a potential returning customer. I’ve seen CZW shows that have combined shit streaming services with an actual shit show, so it could be worse. The fact that they nailed these important aspects of modern independent wrestling seemed to run counter to the show itself, which felt antiquated in the extreme. I’m not asking every promotion to be PROGRESS or RevPro, just as I wouldn’t ask all American promotions to be PWG or EVOLVE, but this seemed like a show from another era where promoters didn’t have the confidence in their own talent’s ability to draw and, as such, never really tried.
As a £3 gamble I think I got enough out of the experience pissing about on Twitter and joking about it, but I cannot recommend watching this without that in the background to keep you sane. If they do another I’ll probably give it a go since it’s not a massive investment for a few hours and hopefully they’ll try it with a more “conventional” show, but I’m not optimistic.