Friday, January 23, 2015

The Center Is Moving: Inspire Pro Relentless Review

Dalton getting his title shot the easy way... by talkin' dat shit
Photo Credit: Kelly Kyle
In the TH Style, of course. You are going to want to get this show, so hit up Smart Mark Video on Demand for the VOD.

  • Ray Rowe was announced as out for the main event due to a horrific motorcycle accident.
  • Andy Dalton won number one contendership to the Inspire Pro Championship by disqualification when Lance Hoyt intentionally attacked him, costing Jax Dane the match.
  • The Orphans defeated the Hollywood Knives after the newest member Sky de Lacrimosa hit Steve-o Reno with the Backdrop Driver while Bradley Allen Dawson accidentally distracted the ref. After the match, Dawson turned on Reno, claiming Reno was the member of the team holding them back.
  • Mr. B utilized the help of Shane Taylor to defeat Scotty Santiago in a street fight.
  • Barbi Hayden retained the NWA Women's Championship with a stump DDT on Athena. Athena got her foot on the ropes, but the referee did not see it.
  • Franco D'Angelo vs. Ricky Starks ended in a no-contest when the Orphans ran down to jump both competitors. Matthew Palmer made the save and they ran the Orphans off.
  • Scot Summers defended the World Class Championship successfully by tapping out Lance Hoyt with the ankle lock.
  • After the match, Greg Symonds faked out Summers by pretending to announce a sabbatical. He attacked Summers after a handshake, and he, Mr. B, and Taylor wailed on Summers until Santiago ran down to make the save.
  • Jojo Bravo gained a measure of revenge against former partner Jordan Jensen, defeating him with the Samurai Driver.
  • Matthew Palmer won the Inspire Pro Championship from "One Man" Mike Dell with the Centerfold Splash.
  • Right after the match was over, Dalton goaded Palmer into defending his newly won title in an impromptu match. Dalton got the win with the piledriver and left the Marchesa Theater as Inspire Pro Champion.
General Observations:
  • Brandon Stroud opened up the show announcing Ray Rowe's injury, which actually sounded gruesome. He flew off his motorcycle through the rear windshield of the car in front of it. Then again, I've seen Rowe. Dude's a piece of granite, so I didn't really think Stroud was joking when he said that Rowe was doing Hindu squats in his hospital room at the time of the show.
  • Andy Dalton, whom Eamon Paton described as having "politicked" his way to a number one contender's match, started off by bowing up to Jax Dane, who just shoved him halfway to El Paso in response, which was a perfect way to set up the dynamic for the rest of the bout.
  • This match was my first real exposure to Dane, and good lord, he may be the hossiest hoss of them all. Overhead choke suplexes with ease? Meaty meathook lariats? Shaking off JT LaMotta's interference like he's a mayfly? I was doing the heart-eyes emoji through most of this match.
  • Dalton really pulled off "sleazy" well too, with his skulking movements and cheapshots here and there.
  • Lance Hoyt came down towards the end, hopped right in the ring, and bashed Dalton while taunting Dane on the outside. I was enjoying the match, but in the light of the "politicking" angle Dalton was running and how the main event would shake out, the finish worked super well. Of course, the two mammoth dudes started brawling with each other, and my HOSS SENSE started tingling.
  • Hoyt stuck around to bully Stroud as has been his thing in 2014, saying that he had until later in the show to make up his mind whether he wanted to fight or not. I got really scared because I didn't wanna see someone I've had in my house get maimed at a wrestling show.
  • So the Orphans' gimmick is that they're latch-key kids all grown up and can't afford shit, which given their "gear" is really t-shirt and jeans, they're really living the gimmick.
  • And of course, Bradley Axel Dawson went and got himself knocked out before the match. It's really been a brilliant gimmick having Dawson get incapacitated before every match and letting Steve-o Reno work basically a handicap match gimmick. Reno is quite good at it, as he was on point during the whole match.
  • "Just for five dollars a day, you can take care of these Taylor Boys." Jojo Bravo is a national treasure on commentary. Just let him take the gig fulltime except for when he's wrestling. Hell, let him commentate his OWN matches.
  • Dawson finally woke up in time to distract the referee trying to get in the ring without tagging, which brought out the Orphans' new de facto leader Sky de Lacrimosa to make the odds way insurmountable for Reno. de Lacrimosa definitely fit the Orphans' oeuvre since I always remembered him to be quite haggard, even in his gothiest state.
  • After the match, Dawson attacked Reno and blamed him for all the mistakes the team has made. Delusional heels are the best heels.
  • Nothing is worse than when a street fight starts with a collar and elbow tie up and some grappling, which is why I appreciated Steve Santiago just busting out of the back and laying into Mr. B for their no holds barred, come-as-you're-dressed brawl.
  • The action quickly spilled to the outside of the ring, where B found an empty tallboy can of Olde English and smashed it on Santiago's head, easily the best gimmick weapon of the year in terms of style if not efficacy.
  • The action spilled out into the lobby, which included a paraplegic chopping B in the chest, Santiago taking him and crotching him on the railing, and tossing him in the women's bathroom, which led to some angry patrons shooing him out forcefully. Maybe B should have kept the action in the ring...
  • Things looked pretty grim for B until Shane Taylor, who could be the biggest hoss on a roster of hosses, came out and squished Santiago. I love big fat guys, so I was happy to see a dude who could very well be the FATTEST WRESTLER I HAVE EVER SEEN make his way down to the ring.
  • Lisa Freidrich's first appearance was to interview Dawson, which lasted about 30 seconds before Reno came looking for his pound of flesh. 
  • Justin Bissonnette came out and announced that Sammy Guevara was no longer working for Inspire Pro, which could have been construed as a work at the time, but no, it was real. So the J-Crown would be vacated, while former referee Thomas Munos would be reinstated. However, he announced that he wanted to be a wrestler rather than a ref, and well, I can't wait to get to Ecstasy of Gold II to see how his gimmick played out in real time...
  • Athena brought out her Absolute Intense Wrestling Women's Championship belt with her, which was notable because it showed that AIW's title belts look like real title belts and not cardboard straps colored in with marker.
  • Barbi Hayden's "beauty queen" shtick entertained the shit out of me, even if she only really broke it out with her faux-wave early on in the match. Anyone who can let me know that they're a heel without having to say words is doing something right. For example, she sarcastically held the ropes open for Athena after dumping her to the outside. In a bit of symmetry, Athena would hold the ropes open for her as she careened out of the ring, missing a spear attempt.
  • Athena locked in her variation of the STF in the middle of the ring, and to escape, Hayden bit the hand locked near her face. Anytime someone bites to get out of a submission hold, it pops the shit out of me. Again, show how dastardly you are, don't sit up there and debase the fans.
  • The match had a great vibe going, one that was pointed out by Paton and Nigel Rabid, but was easily shown through the in-ring action. Hayden, who's deceptively hossy for someone with her stature, threw her weight around, while Athena used her athleticism and speed, and the combination really meshed well.
  • Athena hit the O-Face, but Hayden rolled to the ropes and got her foot underneath to break the sure three-count. In another bit of symmetry, Athena got her foot on the ropes after getting hit with the stump DDT, but the ref didn't see it. This was obviously setting up a rematch down the road, but Hayden shot that idea down in an interview segment with Freidrich backstage. TIME SHALL TELL.
  • Ricky Starks came out for his match with Gary Jay, but he announced that his opponent couldn't make it. Franco D'Angelo then came out saying his opponent, Jeffrey Gant, also didn't make it, and they had an impromptu get together, albeit a friendly one since D'Angelo claimed to have no beef.
  • Starks at one point did the Undertaker's Old School rope-walk move, only with much more gyration and sass than the Dead Man would.
  • The match was short-lived as the Orphans came out to spoil the fun, but Matthew Palmer came out to make the save. The Orphans got their lunch handed to them, which was probably the only booking decision I didn't quite get. I didn't really want to see a trios match between the latch-key kids and the Center of Perfection plus Starks after that interaction, but not everything can be perfect.
  • Stroud read his note card for the next match and before he got to the announcement, audibly said "oh crap." Hoyt made his way out and made it really uncomfortable for Stroud for like five minutes before offering his chin up for a free shot. When Stroud swung, Hoyt swatted his fist away and goozled him, which brought out Scot Summers. I had never been so happy to see that guy as I was when he came out to make the save (and I like him!).
  • Summers' goal with the World Class Championship was to bring back pure, technical wrestling, but the challenger, Hoyt, was about as roughneck as one could get. The contrast in styles made for a nifty little match, especially with how well Summers was able to anticipate the brawling stuff and bring it back to the base.
  • Hoyt got Summers on the ground and flipped off the crowd before trying to stomp him in the chest. Summers quickly grabbed his leg and wrangled him into an ankle lock, which was one of the slicker counters I saw all night.
  • Of course, Dane wasn't going to sit back and take Hoyt's dickery in his match earlier lightly, so he made his appearance and distracted the American Psycho long enough for Summers to get in the ankle lock for the tap out victory.
  • Afterwards, Greg Symonds came out, resigned his position as commissioner, and intimated that he was going to leave Inspire to "handle his demons" which referred to his addiction history. Summers told him to get clean and shook his hand, but when he turned around, Symonds attacked, bringing out B and Taylor for the beatdown. Santiago came down to make the save.
  • Bravo was in full Shawn Michaels bump mode for his grudge match against Jordan Jensen, most notably leaping back on a bump into the corner. Thankfully, he didn't peg the Ziggler Scale, but he was working extra stiff on his own body.
  • The match was laid out as if both guys were anticipating each others' moves, and they even did each others' finishers to each other. It was a first time meeting, but the match was the culmination of a bitter feud between two former tag partners, so it worked.
  • Bravo has some of the most cognitively dissonant offense on the scene, pairing chest and back rakes with super athletic shit like a tornado springboard bulldog. It shouldn't pair together, but he makes it work.
  • Towards the end, Dalton, who accompanied Jensen to the ring, broke out some handcuffs, but Bravo cuffed him to the ropes, which was a clever way of making sure the match finished clean.
  • The way Bravo feigned his knee injury at the end made it look like the match was going to end on some kind of referee stoppage. The back emptied out and everything, but it ended up being an elaborate ruse. On one hand, I thought it should have set up some kind of double turn, especially with Bravo borderline condescending to Jensen after the match on the mic, but on the other, Bravo's character is that he's a cruiserweight who bills himself as the "heaviest sumo in the land," so this kind of trickery fits in his persona.
  • Rowe's injury left Mike Dell without an opponent, so he chose Palmer. The two started off the match really stiff, just laying into each other like they each owed each other money. Even their big moves weren't followed up by pins but rather ground 'n pounds. It set an explosive tone for the rest of the match.
  • At one point, Dell shoved a fan to the ground, which was glossed over. He started laying on the heel moodiness later on in the match, so maybe that fan was a plant? Or maybe he tried getting involved. I don't know.
  • Dell took a chair and started to wail on D'Angelo, who was checking on Palmer while he was selling his knee around the ringpost. Like the match prior, it was a great way to neutralize a second around the ring.
  • Palmer wiped out the ref, and the chairshots began raining down from Dell. The Champ went to the top for his elbow, but he left the chair too close to Palmer, who defended himself with it before hitting the Centerfold Splash for the win. New Champ! New Champ!
  • Dalton and LaMotta came rushing out the back, and Dalton got the mic to goad Palmer into granting him the title match he won in the opener right there. If I were there in the moment, I might have been miffed that the moment wasn't going to be left to breathe, but it played out well on tape.
Match of the Night: Mr. B vs. Scotty Santiago, Street Fight - Few things get my attention than a crazy, intense street fight that matriculates throughout the arena and incorporates its surroundings in both ridiculous and sublime ways. Mr. B and Santiago were given the task to beat the crap out of each other with whatever was nearby, whether it was in a fixed position or just laying around on the ground. Hell, Mr. B at one point used an empty Olde English tallboy can as a weapon, which gets nothing but respect from me.

The action started in the ring and quickly escalated with both weaponry and scenery changes. They brawled all the way to the foyer and teased even going outside, but at each stop, they did their best to wallop each other either with whatever was available or into whatever was available. One thing was clear above the fracas, that Santiago was both the more athletic and sadistic competitor. Santiago crotched B on the brass railing and slid him down. He threw B into the wall and then tossed him into the ladies' bathroom, which caused two patrons to assail him and toss his involuntarily intruding ass out. Then when they got back to the ring, B whipped Santiago into the steps, but he leaped over them and then rebounded by using the steps as a launching pad onto his would-be assailant.

B wasn't at want for brutality, but he couldn't really match the wits that Santiago had, which is why I thought bringing out Shane Taylor for the fuck-finish didn't feel deflating. After all, if politics are working against you, why not use them back? The match was brutal brilliance, and the end advanced a story that will guarantee some more brawls in the future between the two, plus, holy shit Taylor really hossed it up. On a show with at least two or three other matches that could rate in year-end polls, this visceral, trashy brawl stole the show.

Overall Thoughts: Once upon a time, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla was the promotion one could count on to embody the phrase "All filler, no killer." In 2011 and 2012, no promotion was better at jamming a card full of spectacular matches and leaving a critic such as myself hard-pressed to choose one bout as contest of the evening. While I was watching Relentless, I got that tingling feeling once again, like I was back eagerly popping in a DVD from Reseda into my player and awaiting the results before my eyes. Only one match really fell flat in terms of quality, and it was one that never had the chance to develop before being truncated by a run-in from the Orphans. Everything else on the show packed some kind of punch.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the amount of fuck finishes that happened, which depicts the biggest chasm between those PWG shows and Inspire Pro Wrestling of today. Super Dragon and his crew barely took the effort to tell long-term, complex angles. PWG has always been the dream match promotion, and that's great, nothing wrong with it. But Inspire has ambitions of developing feuds and telling stories out of the ring as well as inside of it. With no weekly television, some of the match finishes are going to be screwy. However, each finish made sense within context and advanced some kind of feud. Things always moved forward.

But the best part of this show was the total team effort from everyone. Top to bottom, from opening match to special double-secret main event, Relentless had everyone's best, and yet it didn't feel like it ran on for too long. The only match that maybe approached "take it home" territory was the Jojo Bravo/Jordan Jensen match, but conversely, they were culminating a huge feud and perhaps could have been indulged the extra time. It was also the first card where everything came together for Inspire, something that could not have come at a better time.

Indie wrestling is in a state of flux, and new challengers are going to need to emerge to the national scene in order to freshen things up. Inspire does bring it its share of national names, but for this card to be as well-rounded and outstanding as it was with a nearly complete roster of natives to the Central Texas scene bodes amazingly well for its future as a tastemaking promotion in North America. Any great promotion has to have a solid roster upon which stars can supplement the action, not drive it. Relentless feels like it's Inspire Pro Wrestling's announcement to the rest of the wrestling world, and everyone needs to see it.