Wednesday, January 9, 2013

SMASH Wrestling – Any Given Sunday

Photo credit: SMASH Wrestling
First and foremost, I’m going to send a big, heartfelt thanks to Dan (aka Tobogganing Bear for those With Leather Daddies reading at home) for accompanying me to the show. He’s good people, kept me company, and made some funny quips that I may liberally steal for this review. Dan has yet to be totally engulfed by the fandom that is Chikara, so imagine my delight at the chance to a) bring him a copy of King of Trios 2012, and b) get him way into Johnny Gargano. He walked in a Kevin Steen fan, and I like to think he walked out a Kevin Steen fan who now feels incredibly ashamed of himself for ever thinking of rooting against a member of FIST.
You can see the shame in his eyes already!

SMASH occupied the back of the eZone, one of those sports and entertainment complexes geared towards creating corporate synergy via laser tag. I felt my productivity rising as I approached the bumper car area to line up, so clearly they’re doing something right. The line was long and not all that well organized, but everyone seemed happy to be there, and even happier to be in out of the cold.

I’ll confess at this point that I did not attend their first show, Inception, so my familiarity with the company and some of its wrestlers was pretty low. That said, I had already seen about half of the card wrestle in different promotions and venues, so I had an idea of what I was getting into, and Johnny Gargano and Gregory Iron were the tipping points for my attendance.

The crowd was much larger than anticipated, which was really nice to see. Being in a situation where two wrestlers are putting all they have into a match only to be met by lukewarm interest from a handful of people is not the greatest situation to be in (see: Reaction to Tim Donst in Strathroy, ON. See also: my sleeve, where my fandom of Donst can be found). A good crowd who cares can turn mediocre matches into great experiences, and encourage those in the ring to elevate their game. I also recognized numerous people from events in Pennsylvania, Toronto, Miami, and Vaughn (Ontario), proving that the wrestling community is nowhere near as large as you are led to believe.

I went full-Holzerman and brought a notebook to the event, but most of my notes are scrawled and rushed, and resulted in things like “3.0 – yay!” or “lol Kevin Steen.” I won’t transcribe them, but know in your heart of hearts you are missing out on some top-notch wrestling journalism. I’m not going to describe each match move for move, because that’s not what I do ever, and also some of them are not positive, and I don't really want to get down on anyone. Well, maybe Steen, but as I said, lol.

Mr. Personality himself!
The first match served to get the already hyped crowd prepped and ready for a night of pro-graps. The local boy Brent Banks took on Mathieu St. Jacques, the most Canadian sounding wrestler since “I’m Lance Storm, and I am a member of Team Canada.” It may not have had the Anglophile vs. Francophone vitriol of the Quebecer’s theme song, but “guy from Quebec” is almost as easy to get over as a heel as “American” in these parts, and St. Jacques played his part well.

The next match wasn’t on the card, but featured Abe Jackson and Preston Myles vs. Jack Rushton and something called a Weapon X. Myles had Jodie Fleisch shorts, so I was kind of already endeared, but Abe Jackson, well, let me digress.

One little kid in the front row completely owned the night. Aside from being positively adorable, and having an obviously cool dad to a) bring him there and b) know enough to scurry him away from Kevin Steen trying to kill everyone, this kid got all of the wrestler swag. Scotty O’Shea’s glasses and keyboard, Abe Jackson’s afro pick... if there was a gimmick item, it ended up on this kid. For the record he gets every best, and I hope memories like these keep him a wrestling fan forever, and not just a grown up former Cena fan full of shame at his wrestling-loving past like so many Ultimate Warrior and Adam Bomb fans before him. He also prepped for his high-fives well ahead of time (like, wellll ahead), thereby high-fiving my heart.

To get back on track, not only did this kid get the pick, but he got some impromptu style time in thanks to Jackson. I am total sucker for stuff like this, so needless to say I will be pro-Jackson for a very long time.  The match wasn’t really anything overwhelming, but when you take into consideration the fact that this was Rushton’s first match, it makes me not want to expand on the thoughts in my notebook, like “How I’ve missed you, Kelly Kelly clotheslines.” I was informed via SMASH’s ever so helpful twitter operator that he wrestled in Under Armour underwear because he also trains in MMA, but doesn’t really make much sense, so I’ll just pretend his hero is Randy Orton, and that has given him an innate hatred of pants.

Next up was Gregory Iron, universally loved (unless you are in Cleveland) Handicapped Hero vs. John Greed. Greed looks like the love child of the AWA’s Rocky Mt. Thunder and Tursas’s mask, which sounds awesome in theory, but is actually pretty generic in person. I know Iron is really easy to book into Big Guy vs. Underdog matches, but it was a little disappointing. Not for lack of effort, mind you, but Iron is capable of a great many things, and I feel like too often the story of his matches focuses on any kind of physical limitation he may have, versus any kind of personality or storytelling he can bring to the ring. It’s an easy trap to fall into, I suppose, given the precedence set by other promotions and the ease at which Iron can bring comedy to a match, but I hope that if they keep bringing him up here, they’ll be a little more creative in the future.

Photo Credit: SMASH Wrestling
I’m going to give part of the next match a pass, because it was pretty hard to hear from where we were. As Dan said (like I wish I would have), “there are Jesus and Mary Chain albums clearer than this.” So forgive me, good people at SMASH, if there was more exposition prior to this match. Tyson Dux (pronounced Dukes, because wrestling) took on “The Hacker” Scotty O’Shea. This was a rematch from their previous “Inception” event, but it wasn’t super clear why they hated each other, or why the rematch had to happen. I feel like this really was the theme for the night. In almost all of the matches, the stories being told weren’t clear, or in some cases, existent. This match still managed to be a fan favourite, and I admit I giggled when O’Shea calling a move the Num Lock, because keyboard jokes. This match, of course, also led to the sudden change of the main event.

Flame-baiting opinion: I am not a fan of Kevin Steen. I realize as a Canadian who also Writes About Wrestling on the Internet I should be extolling his virtues and losing my mind when he comes out in his most formal of tearaways, but alas, not so much. Basically, Kevin Steen claimed to have read positive things written about O’Shea on the internet (lulz) and because of that hates him and needs to fight him (further lulz). Johnny Gargano came out to even the playing field -although Kevin Steen vs. intangible Internet would have more than paid for itself- which resulted in Steen telling him that people on the internet are positive about Gargano as well (hey, that’s me!), and refused to fight him. He also insulted Gargano’s haircut.
For science, and such.
Okay. Let’s stop right there. I don’t care if you’re the biggest Kevin Steen fan in the goddamn world; you are straight-up lying if you think that Gargano’s haircut wasn’t a massive upgrade. This terrible fallacy lead to the formation of a main-event tag match. I’d love to explain, in detail, the evolution of rearrangement, however again, mics were a bit low, and I was also dealing with some pretty serious Gargano feelings.

Said feelings aside, the next match, again, resulted in a disappointing lack of storytelling. I know that Psycho Mike from Psychoville is supposed to be a psycho, but aside from shaving one side of his head closer to the scalp than the other, he mainly looked like Derrick Bateman, had Bateman chosen to pursue a role on California Dreams instead of being a professional wrestler. Nothing really conveyed that he was a supposed psycho, so it fell a bit flat. Alex Vega was a bright spot (Dan quote: He’s aggressively not bad), and he was really the only one who had stood out to me during the locals-only match at Chikara’s Green Ice show in Vaughn. If you can stand out in a Chikara show not being a regular Chikara employ, then “aggressively not bad” is pretty goddamn great.
Seleziya Sparx
Photo Credit: SMASH Wrestling
3.0 came out to do what they do best, comedy-laced tags with Shane Matthews application of the Boston Crab on anything that moves. It wasn’t anything new, but I love these guys, and I totally laughed when Seleziya Sparx got crabbed. It was also nice to not see her be called a slut, or a whore, or any of the socially concerning things that make me cringe in AIW. Josh Alexander, one half of 3.0’s tag opponents can also be found in AIW, and I have to say – he is literally the least memorable wrestler since…that guy I can’t remember. If it weren’t for me excessively reviewing the match card for this show, I could not pick him out of a line up, let alone tell you how he is at the pro graps from memory. Thanks to main-lining a bunch of AIW in the past few days, I can tell you that he comes out to Eminem, and “aggressively not bad” is a compliment I will probably never grant him.

This point in the show is where I stopped taking notes because I was really looking forward to the main event. Also, it started with a ten-minute out of the ring brawl that made its way into our section, so I was a little more preoccupied with doing the token ‘grab purse and scramble’ move than I was concerned with jotting anything down.
Photo Credit: Andrea Kellaway
Despite the fact that my interest in Dux vs. O’Shea was pretty much nil, this match was a lot of fun. Kevin Steen wasn’t utterly horrid, and actually looked to be enjoying himself, something apparently banned in ROH. The “everything as a weapon” rule was in effect from the get go, leading to garbage cans, chairs, O’Shea’s keyboard, and even a fan’s crutch being used, and the crowd loved every single second of it. Obviously we know where I stand on Gargano, and the end result was a pleasant surprise.

I know I came away with criticisms, but despite the lack of storytelling, and the need to get on one attendee’s case for using a gay slur, I had a great time. The venue worked well and was easily accessible, and they were sponsored by a Mediterranean restaurant giving out free hummus. Guys, if I love anything more than great wrestling, it is free hummus. I still came away feeling extremely positive, and excited to find out exactly what they plan to do next. I will definitely be at their next show – that is, if Kevin Steen doesn’t murder me with a stop sign for saying positive things on the internet.

I feel that with some thoughtful, creative booking SMASH could really become an attractive and prominent destination for North American wrestlers, and a great exhibition for homegrown talent. There’s a very easy path that SMASH could take, but I truly hope they choose to take some risks, because the payoff is going to be more than worth it.