Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An All-Weekend Rave: The 2015 Scenic City Invitational Review

It was Jimmy Rave's weekend
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
In the TH Style, obviously. You are going to want to get this thing, either on DVD or some kind of digital format. Contact WHOO! Wrestling for all the details. Seriously, do it now, even before you read this review. The tournament originally took place on August 7 and 8, 2015.

Night One
  • Corey Hollis upended Joey Lynch with an eye poke and a basement superkick to win the opening first round match in the tournament.
  • Ace Rockwell advanced over Mark Vandy after blocking a pump kick and hitting an Aces High ace crusher as a counter.
  • Moose overcame an in-match knee injury to defeat KT Hamill with the big spear.
  • In a battle of the behemoths, Kongo Kong crashed down from the heavens with the big splash to take out Tank.
  • Jason Collins eliminated Caprice Coleman with a bridging cradle suplex and leverage from the ropes.
  • Gunner Miller countered a Chip Day flying chop from the top with a big spear to advance in the tournament.
  • In the longest match of the first night, Jimmy Rave tapped out Anthony Henry with the Dusk 'Til Dawn crossface to move on.
  • In the main event, Gunner took advantage of a missed Chrisjen Hayme 450 splash to nail him with the PTSD Bomb to win.
Night Two
  • In non-tournament action, Lynch defeated Henry with a one-handed, high-leverage roll-up.
  • Hollis was the first to punch his ticket for the four-way tournament final with the eye poke/basement superkick combo on Collins.
  • Gunner maneuvered out of a ring-in sunset flip to wrangle Rockwell into a PTSD Bomb to claim his spot in the final.
  • In a certified HOSS FIGHT quarterfinal match, Kong countered a corner bomb with a hurricanrana and finished off Moose with the big splash from the top.
  • Rave controversially dispatched Miller in the final quarterfinal match by faking an injury for a substantial amount of time and rope-a-doping him into an inside cradle.
  • The team of Cameron Coxx, Mr. Sports Entertainment, Vandy, and Tank defeated Day, Ryan Vega, Alexander S. Kirk, and Matt Fortune when Tank smushed Day with a chokebreaker.
  • Rave captured the first ever Scenic City Invitational Tournament by outlasting Kong, Miller, and Hollis in an elimination-style four-way match. Rave captured the final fall with the Dusk 'Til Dawn on Hollis.
General Observations:
  • Normally, I run through the card and point out various moments that stood out, but since most of the competitors are unfamiliar to the audience at large, I'll just recap each of the matches in each of the bullet points.
  • Joey Lynch vs. Corey Hollis - This match was a hot opener, setting the pace even with a few missteps here and there. Hollis did well to establish himself as the big heel during the whole thing with some subtle (kicking the ropes while Lynch was draped over them) to not-so-subtle (poking the eyes), and really came off looking like a star.
  • Ace Rockwell vs. Mark Vandy - Vandy was actually explained as coming from the Indiana area, so it was his first foray into the Georgia scene as well. He also looked like he could be Erick Rowan's lankier, thinner brother. The match started off strong with tight mat work, almost with a #grapplefuck kinda feeling to it. It definitely stayed strong throughout, although it didn't reach the heights that some other matches that followed would. Rockwell's Aces High OUTTA NOWHERE was one of the better finishes of the first night.
  • KT Hamill vs. Moose - It was weird to see Moose work underneath against a dude that was at least 75% his size, but Hamill was such a tenacious pit bull going after the leg that I bought it. Hamill really established himself with his wily tactics and wide-eyed intensity, but Moose showed he could be a top guy anywhere in this match. It also had the spot of maybe the entire tournament, when Moose caught Hamill in a rana on the outside and seamlessly powerbombed him on the apron.
  • This point is probably a good time to point out how good the announcing was during the whole two-day slate. Dan Wilson and Al Getz may not be household names, but they honestly should be. They brought essential information, which was vital for a tournament featuring guys that many consumers may not know, but they were also engaging, entertaining, and amusing at points. Wilson exclaiming that the Tank/Kongo Kong match was a "good ol' fashioned HOSS battle" sold me for the rest of the viewing.
  • Kongo Kong vs. Tank - I had high hopes for the violence level in this match, but it was probably the least consistent, spottiest match in the whole slate. Points in the match seemed to have both competitors slogging around and almost looking like they were wading through swamps, but at other points, they looked sharp and on-point with their movements, especially Kong when he unleashed his discus lariat for the first time.
  • Caprice Coleman vs. Jason Collins - This match got my nod for the best of the entire two-day show, so I'll go in more detail below about it.
  • I will say that Wilson's line about Coleman denying he was a vampire was golden. The cliche is that "black don't crack," and Coleman doesn't look like he's pushing 40.
  • Gunner Miller vs. Chip Day - This match had the unfortunate task of being sandwiched between the two best contests of the first night, maybe of the whole weekend. However, it was a solid affair between a talented chickenshit heel (Day) and a potential top hero-type (Miller). Miller was allowed to display his big power spots, especially a damn-impressive military press that he uses only one hand for at the start.
  • Anthony Henry vs. Jimmy Rave - This match was billed as Rave vs. the guy who could be the next Rave. Henry didn't have the villainous traits like Rave had built up over the last few years, but the dude could do some mad high-flying shit in the air, to put it bluntly. This match pretty much was everything one might want from a modern indie junior heavyweight match, even if towards the end, it got a little too into itself. Still, it could have main evented the whole weekend and gotten nary a complaint over here.
  • Gunner vs. Chrisjen Hayme - The Hayme I remember from back in the day was a lot more high-flying than the one presented here, although according to the announcers, he had a pretty bad in-ring accident that had him curtail his high-spots. Hayme worked with the most overt personality of the other 16 competitors, and his shtick was an appropriate counterbalance for Gunner's rah-rah intensity. It wasn't the best match of the night, but it was a worthy end to the first show.
  • The first night overall was punctuated by tight action, quick pace, and most importantly, strong finishes. A huge reason why I think night one is a strong contender for show of the year is because at least seven of the matches had tremendous, tightly-executed finishes that raised the quality of the matches beforehand by a few levels.
  • Anthony Henry vs. Joey Lynch - Much like with Lynch/Hollis the first night, this opener for the second show was meant to set the pace for the rest of the night. It was a sprightly and exciting opener, and the final pinfall was super athletic even though the pinning combination seemed simple.
  • Before the first match of the second night, Getz announced that Rave had suffered an injury against Henry to his shoulder and then had it aggravated earlier in the day in a car accident. Trust me, it came back into play later on in the card.
  • Jason Collins vs. Corey Hollis - My one critique of this match was that they were paired together at all, given that Collins heeled his way to beating Coleman the night before and Hollis was established as the King Prick for the whole weekend. However, Collins worked well as a good guy here. Collins' suplex array wasn't as varied as it was night before, but he was able to bring that fire offense regardless.
  • Gunner vs. Ace Rockwell - I found out after the fact that more than a few people who watched considered this their match of the tournament. I thought they were really ambitious and tried a lot of cool stuff in it, but it fell a little flat for me. However, the finishing sequence was really strong.
  • Moose vs. Kongo Kong - This match, by far, was my favorite of the second show. It was a knock-down, drag-out HOSS FIGHT. Kong was unleashed here, and again, Moose totally played up the pathos of a sympathetic, underdog face although in an entirely different circumstance. Plus you're not going to want to miss a nearly 400 pound man attempt a corner Frankensteiner.
  • Gunner Miller vs. Jimmy Rave - Aside from the controversial finish, this was another really strong match helping to establish Miller as a top-level face. Putting him against Day and then Rave was super-smart, and Miller acquitted himself well. Seeing him pull off the Croyt's Wrath was kinda mind-blowing too. Rave was great here, even through the ending.
  • So about that ending, yeah, at first I had no idea what to make of the extended referee stoppage and everyone-pouring-out-of-the-back to check on Rave thing. As I was watching it, the scene unfolded like one of those overly long Family Guy gags that more often than not had an underwhelming payoff. But Rave popped out of the medical stoppage and sprung into the inside cradle so devilishly that in retrospect, it was an excellent trolling device. That being said, that finish will probably be the most polarizing aspect of this entire two-show slate.
  • Tank, Cameron Coxx, Mr. Sports Entertainment, and Mark Vandy vs. Chip Day, Ryan Vega, Alexander S. Kirk, and Matt Fortune - This match was the textbook-definition of a palate cleanser between the dramatic fuck finish prior and the big four-way final match to follow, and it was fun and entertaining.
  • Jimmy Rave vs. Corey Hollis vs. Gunner vs. Kongo Kong - Generally, four-way matches have been presented in tiresome fashion, but this match was done only two wrestlers in at a time and via elimination rules, which freshened the format up by going old-school. Imagine that. This match had so much going on in it, from Kong looking like the unbeatable golem through the impromptu reformation of Rave and Hollis as Jimmy Rave Approved though the end where Day and Vega came out to try and interfere on Hollis' behalf. The match did go a bit too long for my liking, but then again, it was a four-way final for the first ever SCI crown, and it also had so much action to dissect, compartmentalize, and enjoy that the length wasn't a dealbreaker in the end.
Match of the Weekend: Caprice Coleman vs. Jason Collins, First Round Tournament Match - The Scenic City Invitational's first night contained nary a bad match. The action flowed crisply and still contained all the rich storytelling that makes good wrestling great and great wrestling iconic. One match stood out among the slate of eight, and it featured the tenured-yet-still-youthful looking Caprice Coleman taking on the relative newcomer Jason Collins. The match was wonderfully paced without losing a sense of purpose or devolving into the sort of move-trading that the worst of wrestling can become, and yet the big moves in the match popped off the screen in tremendous fashion.

They began hitting all the best notes for a prestige tournament match. The preliminary grappling, the feeling out process, if you will, was both tight and felt rough, before going into the first strikes that looked absolutely stiff. The tone of the match had to be chippy or else moving to the outside and throwing each other into barricades and the like wouldn't resonate as well as it did. Even the stuff that might have seemed elementary, like countering a springboard ring-in attempt by Coleman by "slam-dunking" him on the top rope, came off super brutal and helped play up the big match atmosphere.

But the match was cemented and keystoned at the end with amazing displays of athleticism timed and paced perfectly. They saved their big bombs, Collins with his Taz-esque display of suplexes and Coleman with his aerial acrobatics, for the end, and it made for an impressive rally to the end. Coleman's backflipping Northern Lights suplex trio has to be seen to be appreciated. But with all the bombs being thrown around and subsequently survived, it made sense that Collins would have to resort to trickery to win the match. On a weekend stacked with tremendous wrestling, Collins and Coleman stood out above the pack as having the best match of them all.

Overall Thoughts: The Southern independent scene has deserved a revival for the longest time. Ever since NWA Wildside closed, the national gaze has drifted away from Georgia and the surrounding states, but over the last few years, Dixieland has grown into a healthy, vibrant scene. North Carolina and Florida have come into prominence, but Georgia has been ready to join the exchange with the rest of the country for years. The Scenic City Invitational on paper put together a slate featuring nationally-known names (Moose, Jimmy Rave), on-the-cusp guys who have tasted national fame (Kongo Kong, Corey Hollis), and a lineup of some of the best local guys Georgia and the surrounding states have had to offer. Suffice to say, those plans worked out in sterling fashion.

Out of 15 matches that took place from first bell on night one through the end of night two, none of them was anything worse than "pretty good." The wrestling was top-notch in every single contest, ranging from deep psychology and limb work to big high spots even to some subtle comedy, especially in the Gunner/Chrisjen Hayme and the eight-man tag matches. Everyone got a chance to show off their wares in extended spots, and all of them showed off their worth in varying degrees, whether in shorter bursts like Joey Lynch or for extended portions of the two-day fray like Kong.

Additionally, several wrestlers came out of the double-shot looking like absolute stars. Gunner Miller, for example, was able to build a character and establish himself as both intense, hard-nosed, but also sympathetic and noble. Even though his best moment came when he was just standing around during Rave's injury okey-doke, it was a time that cemented him as a wrestler worth pulling for. Hollis spent over 70 minutes total in the ring showing that he could weasel and heel and take an absolute thumping with the best of them. Even though the decision to end the final match with him and Rave, two of the biggest heels of the weekend felt weird at first, he was able to provide enough counterweight to Rave on the biggest weekend of his wrestling career. Moose may have been featured on Ring of Honor television all year, but he hasn't felt like as big a deal as he did during this weekend, and it wasn't even completely because he was exerting his size. Yeah, catching KT Hamill on that plancha attempt and powerbombing him into the apron was as eye-popping a spot as one could get during the weekend, but he showed real promise as a sympathetic underdog, which is mind-boggling for someone his size. But whether working with a bum limb against the smaller Hamill or as a legitimate size-challenged underdog against Kong, he showed likability, pathos, and fire.

But the eye-opener of the weekend was Kong. He's a guy who doesn't look like he should be more than a freakshow of a Kamala clone, but the dude consistently projected a fearsome aura without needing to be hokey. He made Tank and Moose, two guys who aren't small by any means, look like legit underdogs in his presence, and even though he was eliminated first in the final match, he was the final boss, the megalith that needed to be tumbled down in order to win the whole thing. And he didn't just do it by being tall and fat, but the dude was among the best workers of the weekend too. One might not want to see a questionable face-painted savage gimmick work holds, but at the same time, why shouldn't a guy from the deepest, darkest jungle who has been in the biz for nearly two decades have picked up a thing or two? And when you have a guy that size who CAN do everything that everyone else can do in addition to the stuff only he can do, shouldn't that also add to his aura rather than "undermine" some dumb gimmick?

But the weekend belonged to Rave, who almost went through a whole career microcosm during his three matches. He worked a prestige junior indie match against Anthony Henry on night one, a match that might have ended up the best of the show if not for some clunkiness at the end. He helped establish Miller as a sympathetic character and a future star in the second match as well as establish himself as perhaps the heel of the weekend by going through a prolonged faux-injury trap angle. And in the final, he reprised mantel as stable master when he and Hollis temporarily reformed Jimmy Rave Approved before they turned on each other to ramp up towards the finish. In that setting, the whole weekend worked.

In fact, the weekend was a success because it was a team effort. WHOO! Wrestling doesn't have HD cameras, but the cameramen got all the best shots and captured the essence of the Empire Arena. But mostly, the announcers were completely and totally on point. One couldn't ask for two better narrators than these two. Not only did they get the action in the ring over, they were informative about the wrestlers in the ring, which was huge for a slate of guys that may not be familiar to the average viewer, even one as in touch with the indie scene as myself. They were also humorous and engaging too. They did what any good announcer should do - supplement the action.

Overall, this show should be mandatory viewing for any wrestling fan. It's not perfect, but it is wholly satisfying from top to bottom. It should be the thing that puts Georgia indie wrestling back into the national spotlight. This tournament stands up to anything that any other company around the country has produced in the last five or six years, including most iterations of the Battle of Los Angeles. If you need something different, this tournament is the cure for what will ail you. If you don't get it, you have no one to blame for your malaise but yourself. And if you are happy with the wrestling you like, why not pick this up and try to add something else to your world? Trust me, you won't be disappointed.