Monday, October 12, 2015

If You'd Like to See a Man Get Killed...: Inspire Pro Wrestling's Ecstasy of Gold II Review

In this case, "Die, Dalton, Die!" isn't German for anything
Photo Credit: Joel Loeschman
In the TH style. You are going to want to get this, either via download, DVD, or on-demand.

  • Steve-O Reno overcame ten other wrestlers despite entering the gauntlet match first to take home the vacant J*Crown Championship. He last eliminated Davey Vega with a school boy rollup.
  • After the match, the mysterious Hollywood Strangler attacked Reno with a rope or a chain of sorts.
  • Thomas Shire retained the Pure Prestige Championship over Mr. B with the UFO. After the match, B attacked Shire and stole the absurdly large Championship belt.
  • The World Class Syndicate of Carson, Moonshine Mantell, and new member Barrett Brown took out the dysfunctional New Movement team of Keith Lee, Cherry Ramones, and "Jiggle-O" James Johnson when Brown hit Ramones with a flying crossbody.
  • Franco D'Angelo pretty much murked VG Allen and Erik Shadows in a three-way match, eliminating Shadows last with the Silencer.
  • Barbi Hayden retained the NWA Women's Championship after the stump DDT on Veda Scott. The referee counted three despite Scott getting her foot under the ropes.
  • The returning Kyle Hawk and Gregory James, billed as Sorrow and Extinction, took out the Great Depression and Sky de Lacrimosa with a combination Gory Special
  • Ricky Starks bested Chuck Taylor after the Angel's Wings.
  • In a XX-Division showcase match, Jessica James defeated the debuting Kimber Lee by countering the alligator clutch into a pinning hurricanrana.
  • In the main event, Matthew Palmer defeated "Dirty" Andy Dalton by disqualification when Dalton blatantly attacked the referee. Vega and Tim Storm came in to beat down on Palmer after the match, but they were countered by D'Angelo and a returning Ray Rowe.

General Observations:
  • Brandon Stroud opened the show by running down what he calls the "Decency Principle," (no racism, sexism, etc.) which, honestly, is something every ring announcer should do before every show. It's the absolute bare minimum that any company should do as a PSA to its fans, but it's so disheartening how many promotions let shitty chants slide like that, even in "adult" environments.
  • Tim Storm was pointed out as being in the VIP area before the show began, and I'm absolutely certain this announcement did not foreshadow a damn thing for later in the night, no-siree-bob.
  • The J*Crown Gauntlet was competed under "No Mercy" rules, which stated that four wrestlers were in the ring at a given time, and whenever someone was eliminated, that person would be replaced until everyone in the match was entered.
  • The look on Athena's face when Delilah Doom aerobic-exercised her way down to the ring was priceless, and Mr. Azerbaijan's rollup attempt on her was timed even more perfectly. That sequence had to be seen to be appreciated.
  • The best moment of the gauntlet match came with the debut of the ULTIMO SEX MACHINE, Thomas Munos (the former referee who was relieved of his position thanks to the Sammy Guevara angle), who came down to the ring with a comely lass on each arm. He looked like Pirate Steve walking straight out of the movie Dodgeball. His first in-ring action was to spear DG Taylor and pin him. Not bad.
  • Munos also got to scavenge a pin on Jojo Bravo after Steve-O Reno hit him with a blockbuster, which led to an exchange of shocked faces between pinner and pinnee before Davey Vega knocked Munos the fuck OUT with a roaring elbow.
  • For the sake of posterity, the order of entrance for all the J*Crown Gauntlet competitors: Reno, Matt Riot, Rey Ortiz, Mr. Azerbaijan, Athena, Doom, DG Taylor, Zac Taylor, Munos, Bravo, Vega. And the order of elimination: Ortiz (by Riot and Mr. A), Riot (by Reno), Mr. A (by Reno), Doom (by Athena), Athena (by the Taylors), DG (by Munos), Zac (by Bravo), Bravo (by Munos), Munos (by Vega), Vega (by Reno)
  • After the match, a strange voice got on the mic, and then Reno was accosted by a guy who called himself the Hollywood Strangler. I think I know who he is, but regardless of angle implications, the Strangler is yet another well-crafted, noir-style character introduced into the Inspire Pro locker room. I feel like if Inspire ever got the urge to pull an Olde Wrestling and plunge right back into a gritty crime novel/movie motif from the 30s/40s, it could totally do so without hesitation.
  • Backstage, Lisa Friedrich interviewed Munos, who played up the post-concussion syndrome angle taking the big elbow by Vega. I wouldn't have run that kind of angle in today's world, but Munos at least was entertaining as the hapless, punch-drunk lucky debut.
  • Before the next match, Stroud pointed out a fan with a paragraph of text on his sign. He was wearing a Cowboys jersey, and the sign said something along the lines of he missed the second half of the Cowboys/Lions playoff game to go to Inspire Pro. I never wanted to boo another fan so much in my life, not even Frank the WWE Clown, Green Lantern Fan, or the Brock Lesnar Guy.
  • Mr. B and Thomas Shire pretty much engaged in one of the most high-end basic wrestling matches ever. It felt like it was more at home as a match on an AAPW or Monster Factory card, but the UFO at the end looked nice.
  • One of my pet peeves about Inspire Pro is how many wrestlers get on the mic and do the Davey Richards "I respect you for having a hell of a match with me" promo, but B turned the trope on its head by using it as a disarming technique to low blow Shire and steal his Pure Prestige Championship belt. I guess having all those post-match soliloquies paid off for this moment.
  • Chris Trew and Friedrich have the best chemistry on backstage interviews, and it manifested itself this time through him admonishing her lack of respect for Keith Lee's home billing of THE MOON. Lee himself is a smooth talker. I know why he's with Trew here - and trust me, it's a money pairing for now - but if and when he breaks out, he could get over huge on his own.
  • Trew cut a promo on the World Class Syndicate's billing as "world class" when all three dudes in it were from Texas. It was such a silly conceit, but Trew, as always made it work so hard.
  • Carson poked the eyes of Cherry Ramones at one point, which caused color commentator Nigel Rabid to flip out over a supposed babyface using dastardly tactics. If anything, Inspire Pro seemed to be the one place where alignments barely mattered in a traditional sense and where it was a bunch of heelish folk running around with varying degrees of righteousness behind their actions, or at the very least popularity.
  • During the Syndicate's comeback, Keith Lee jogged the apron while Trew had the ref distracted and shoved Moonshine Mantell off the top rope, thus ending the apparent comeback. Then, Jiggle-O James Johnson, who is in the New Movement against his will at this point, ratted Lee out to the ref and checked on Mantell. This was next-level storytelling.
  • After the match was over and the dust-up among the New Movement was quelled thanks to Doom's intervention, Johnson grabbed all the entrance gear and shoved it down his pants, which elicited the classic line "That seems really gross, but your own never smells that bad," from Stroud.
  • VG Allen was introduced for the next match, and he looked like he stepped right out of a 1980s music video with his Members Only jacket, leopard-print spandex, fanny pack, hair-metal theme song, and pencil-thin moustache. I want to see more of him.
  • Sure, Erik Shadows got in some token offense, but it was definitely as much a squash match as one could get in favor of Franco D'Angelo. I'll give the Bionic Beast credit; it's the best I've seen him move around the ring since he returned to Inspire Pro.
  • Veda Scott was announced as the "court appointed number one contender" to the NWA Women's Championship, and Stroud added "You are legally required to cheer for Veda Scott!" She definitely owns her gimmick.
  • Scott gets a bad rap in the ring from a vocal corner of the Twitter community, but any flaws she displays are covered up by her character work and especially her ambition in the ring. She busted out a leg-applied full nelson, and it looked really good.
  • The match participants telegraphed the finish hard leading up to it. Scott got her foot on the ropes after taking a huge bomb from Barbi Hayden, and Hayden returned the favor after she took the Mind Trip. Hayden recovered to sneak-attack Scott while she was arguing with the ref and hit her with the stump DDT for the apparent win. Scott got her foot under the ropes, but the ref missed it. It was the second straight show Hayden won with controversy, but, spoiler alert, it was never resolved satisfactorily because some promoter in Florida pulled a power play and got the NWA Women's Championship put on Santana Garrett while Inspire Pro had plans for it. Gotta love territorial wrestling.
  • Sorrow and Extinction turned out to be the returning team of Gregory James and Kyle Hawk, two guys whom Sky de Lacrimosa and the Orphans put on the shelf at the last two shows respectively. As expected, they were piiiiiissed.
  • The match really didn't last long, but it was notable for how easily de Lacrimosa got put down and the Great Depression's apparent turn on the Orphans afterwards. I'd have noted how it felt abrupt, but I feel like the entire point of Depression's character is that he has had absolutely no stability in his life since his debut. This oddly felt like par for the course.
  • Ricky Starks came out for his match and teased getting signed by WWE before revealing the letter the company sent him was actually a cease and desist for his t-shirts. It was a cute fake-out, and it allowed Chuck Taylor to come right out and cut a promo on said shirts to kick off their match.
  • I was actually shocked at how little comedy was contained in the match itself. Taylor can put the boots on and work when he wants to, but his strength is steeped so much in comedy that I almost expect it every time out. Or maybe I'm just used to him in Chikara. Either way, it was a fine match.
  • Friedrich was backstage with Scott, and the latter threatened legal action, ending her promo with the promise "I always get what I want." Without spoiling later shows (which have been in the can for months but humor me here), I believe that is what the English teachers like to call "foreshadowing."
  • The progression in the Kimber Lee/Jessica James match moved quickly from feeling out into big bombs. The transitions felt awkward even if the moves themselves looked good. I kinda wanna see women who are technically gifted start a #grapplefuck movement the way Timothy Thatcher and co. did in EVOLVE. Maybe it'll help some of these matches even out.
  • James' Scorpion Kick though, holy shit, the snap on that wasn't quick so much as it was instant. That move is a money signature if I ever saw one.
  • I see Lee didn't leave her oomph on those German suplexes at home for this match either. She throws one of the best on the indies.
  • Last backstage segment with Friedrich showcased Matthew Palmer in his "Die Dalton Die" shirt. She asked him what it was all about, and he retorted "It explains itself." If deep down, I didn't think "Dirty" Andy Dalton deserved some kind of massive comeuppance, I'd feel chilled about how nonchalant Palmer played off the whole "homicidal" persona.
  • And of course, Stroud kicked off the intros for the main event by announcing "Who wants to see a man die?" I'd call him out for being inherently biased, but then again, the best ring announcer in the biz, Gavin Loudspeaker, isn't exactly objective himself.
  • Dalton, in true fashion, threatened to piss down the throats of everyone who bought a shirt. It's why he's one of the best right now.
  • Palmer wasted no time taking Dalton to the woodshed, which was refreshing in the age of blood feuds starting out in namby-pamby collar-and-elbow grapples.
  • Palmer at one point used the lace holding his tights together to strangle Dalton. I wonder how the Hollywood Strangler felt about Palmer ganking his steez on his first night in the company.
  • The way Dalton dodged Palmer, shoved him into the ringpost, and slid in the ring, demanding the ref count him out was so slimy smooth. Dalton may be the best heel on the circuit today.
  • Palmer went into his AVATAR STATE mode dropping every single bomb he had on Dalton (Tiger Suplex -> Buckle Bomb -> Superkick -> Poison Rana), and when Dalton broke out of the Snapshot only to see Palmer kick out of his brainbuster at one, he did the only rational thing he could do to save his title; he kicked the referee to get disqualified. While the DQ finish might have felt flat in any other circumstance, the context and the "holy shit" look on Dalton's face sold it sublimely.
  • When Ray Rowe came out at the end, I felt a chill, but when he ripped off his cast and stormed the ring, I marked the fuck out. That's how you do a return/save.

Match of the Night: "Dirty" Andy Dalton (c) vs. Matthew Palmer, Inspire Pro Championship Match - Too often I've seen supposed blood-feud matches where the guys begin the match in the collar-and-elbow tie-up like they were in the opening round of an exhibition tournament. The supposed "best wrestler in the world" Seth Rollins is notorious for that shit. So when Matthew Palmer, for whose beef with Andy Dalton was established to be so great he wanted to commit literal homicide, kicked off this match by attacking Dalton at the very ding of the bell and then tossing him outside of the ring like yesterday's garbage, I had to stand up in my den and applaud. Their match had a story, and both Champion and challenger played into it.

The beginning of the match played seamlessly into the main action. Palmer whupped on Dalton like a scalded dog for the beginning portion. Dalton's fear of being put to literal rest was palpable even from the start when he hurriedly backed out of the double-underhook piledriver attempt that Palmer attempted from jump. When Dalton finally got on the offense, which took place after Davey Vega assisted him on some ring re-entry shenanigans, he played it up as sleazily as his character suggested he should. The point in the match where he shoved Palmer hard into the ringpost before squirming back into the ring for the countout tease was everything great about an incredible cowardly heel Champion.

Even though the finish was a disqualification, it was executed with perfection. In all reality, the Dalton/Palmer feud had mileage left on it, and Dalton booting the referee right after Palmer went into that adrenaline-soaked revenge flurry at the very end had just the right amount of gut-punch behind it to feel like I had been robbed of my rightful resolution, but enough theatrics to make me appreciate the performance in the moment and look forward to the next, assumedly final match between the two.

Overall Thoughts: A show has a chance to deliver on two fronts. Match quality is only one aspect, and it's the one that most indie shows are judged by, for better or worse. Ecstasy of Gold II was not Inspire Pro's strongest show from an in-ring standpoint. Granted, nothing on the show was bad, per se, but the main event excepted, everything felt muted compared to what I've come to expect from the Texas promotion, especially comparing it to shows like the first BattleWars or Relentless from the summer/early autumn of last year.

But the other front a show can deliver on is story advancement or how many moments it has. In that category, Ecstasy of Gold II punched hard and left a deep imprint that left me wanting to see the next event. Starting with Thomas Munos' debut into the Hollywood Strangler's first impression in the first match, nearly every contest had something to leave the viewer wanting to see the story continue.

Mr. B turned the post-match Davey Richardsing that some Inspire Pro wrestlers overuse and used it as an ambush technique to steal Thomas Shire's title belt. The New Movement's turbulence continued and allowed both Chris Trew and the man Keith Lee have some quality minutes on the microphone. Barbi Hayden's weasel streak continued, and it allowed Veda Scott to plant seeds for things she's going to be doing in the future. Even Franco D'Angelo got a chance to advance his character and lay out his arc in front of him with a post-match mic spot.

But the biggest pop of the night came with the return of Ray Rowe, who at that point had his career thrown in jeopardy thanks to the motorcycle accident he suffered in late 2014. When he removed his cast and made the save for D'Angelo and Matthew Palmer, the roof came off the Marchesa, and I felt it even nine months in the future and 1,645 miles away. When a performer that beloved makes his return in that crucial a spot, and it falls together perfectly, then you've got yourself a signature moment. It's the kind of thing that makes these kinds of events must-see, and trust me, Ecstasy of Gold II is must-see.