Monday, December 7, 2015

The Hoss Playground: Inspire Pro Undeniable Review

Starks and ACH hear Hoyt roar
Photo Credit: Joel Loeschman
Inspire Pro Wrestling's Undeniable took place February 15, 2015 at the Marchesa Theater in Austin, TX. This report is done in the TH Style, of course. You can get this event at Smart Mark Video on DVD or VOD. I strongly recommend that you do. Also, if you're in the Austin area on January 17. 2016, head on over to the Marchesa for Ecstasy of Gold III: Gold Runs Cold, which will feature Scot Summers vs. Eddie Kingston. You can get tickets here.

  • Athena defeated the debuting Nicole Savoy with the O-Face in the opening match.
  • In the New Movement Performance Evaluation, "Jiggle-O" James Johnson made Chris Trew promise not to interfere in their matches anymore. In return, Trew got Johnson a shot at the J-Crown for the next show.
  • In an elimination match for a spot in the XX-Division Championship Tournament Finals that also included Paige Turner, Delilah Doom scored the upset pin on Angelus Layne via modified sunset flip.
  • Alex Reigns returned to Inspire Pro Wrestling angry he was replaced in the World Class Syndicate and beat the guy who replaced him, Barrett Brown, with a Go 2 Sleep style kick out of a full nelson.
  • Steve-O Reno retained the J-Crown by rolling up "Mr. Touchdown" Mark Angelosetti into a pin out of the Lou Thesz Special. Afterwards, the Hollywood Strangler struck again, only to be chased off by TD.
  • ACH bested Lance Hoyt and Ricky Starks in a three-way dance for number one contendership to the Inspire Pro Championship by reversing a Hoyt chokeslam into a modified casadora victory roll.
  • Barbi Hayden defeated Leva Bates via countout in a match that was originally slated to be for the NWA Women's Championship before Hayden lost the belt to Santana Garrett.
  • Mr. B took out an out-of-it Jojo Bravo with a superkick duo before eating a beatdown from Thomas Shire, whose Pure Prestige Championship B stole at the prior show.
  • Vanessa Kraven debuted for Inspire Pro by taking out Jessica James with a huge powerbomb.
  • In the main event of the evening, Matthew Palmer, Franco D'Angelo, and Ray Rowe defeated "Dirty" Andy Dalton, Davey Vega, and Tim Storm when Palmer hit the Centerfold Splash from a seated-on-the-top-rope Rowe on Palmer. After the match, D'Angelo challenged Rowe to a number one contender's match for whoever was to win the upcoming Palmer/Dalton Inspire Pro Championship match.

General Observations:
  • Brandon Stroud made the unfortunate announcement that Takaaki Watanabe would be missing the show thanks to massive amounts of snow prohibiting his travel from the Northeast. Watanabe's excursion brought him to plenty of cool places with several big matches, but few promotions made him feel as big a deal as he could have been like Inspire Pro. Luckily, this news was probably the only real "bad" news of the night.
  • Athena vs. Nicole Savoy - If you like martial arts-styled kicks, this was the match for you. Savoy's debut for Inspire Pro saw her utilize her long legs for some big kicks. She feels like a wrestler who'd excel bringing in the new era of #grapplefuck to the women's game, especially since she's based out of California. Anyway, this match was a great tone-setter for the evening.
  • Athena came to the ring with both her Absolute Intense Wrestling and Anarchy Championship Wrestling women's titles, which was odd to me given that Inspire Pro and ACW don't feel like they're on the best of terms. But then again, I don't know the whole story here.
  • If this show was to be a display of HOSSDOM, then Athena got the party started early by countering out of one of Savoy's triangle chokes with the Bob Backlund Memorial Short Arm Scissor Lift™. She might be compact, but she looks damn good pulling off the occasional feat of strength.
  • Incidentally, color commentator Nigel Rabid dropped the info that it was "Jiggle-O" James Johnson who invented the O-Face, but even he admitted that Athena does it way, way better.
  • Backstage, Lisa Friedrich had Chris Trew dot biz for an interview, and he promised that his new assistant, Roxy Castillo, would give performance evaluations for his crew. If Paige Turner hadn't already been booked in Inspire Pro, she could have broken in in this role.
  • The next in-ring segment, actually, turned out to be said performance evaluation. Trew promised that Keith Lee and Cherry Ramones, neither of whom was booked at the show, would be safe, but that Johnson and Delilah Doom would get their evaluations. My biggest critique of any Inspire Pro show is that anytime someone other than Trew or Andy Dalton has the microphone, they sound like they're saying the same thing, and when Johnson started talking, it was more of the same. It was a lot of talk about respect, but at least he moved the narrative forward.
  • Angelus Layne vs. Delilah Doom vs. Paige Turner - I understand why Turner was involved in the match, but she felt totally superfluous. She spent time first trying to one-up Layne and then tried building her own "redemption" story and it just didn't come off well at all. However, once the action turned to Doom and Layne, the match picked up bigtime. Doom was great here as the underdog, as she has been in her entire career at this point, and Layne went full HOSS in addition to adding some great cocky heel flavor. The second part of this match should get you pumped the f up to see what those two will eventually end up doing.
  • Layne was introduced as being billed from "The nearest emergency room." If you're trying to rebrand yourself in a more bloodthirsty direction, that is a great place to start.
  • One point in the match saw Layne position Doom in the corner in the Tree of Joey Lawrence (™, Excalibur [I think]). After Layne got Doom in place, she placed her knee right on Doom's, uh, delicate parts, and posed. I'm not sure it gets more hardcore than that.
  • Alex Reigns vs. Barrett Brown - It was a decent match elevated because Brown bumped his ass off. Both guys hustled, but Brown hit high eight on the Ziggler Scale at least twice, once in the beginning on a powerbomb and later on towards the end of the match. The intensity was later further backed up with a Reigns interview where he revealed his distaste at being replaced in the World Class Syndicate by Brown.
  • Stroud promoted Inspire Pro's social media presence between matches, and somehow brought up Ello, that one site everyone joined for a hot second when Twitter was down earlier this year. His quote: "I don't know what Ello is; I think it's a suppository?" I would probably agree with that assessment.
  • Steve-O Reno vs. "Mr. Touchdown" Mark Angelosetti - After a few years of a tamer, fan-friendlier Mr. Touchdown, seeing him play up more of a rudo was refreshing. However, he played a more mature heel, incorporating more stalling and slippery counters. He provided a great canvas for which Reno could work and create.
  • After the match, the Hollywood Strangler came out and accosted Reno again, and Touchdown made perhaps the slowest, most nonchalant save in the history of saves. It was still satisfying to see him save the day, but man, he's lucky the Strangler is perhaps the least efficient asphyxiator in history.
  • Lance Hoyt was not technically booked to be at the show, but he had to show up to bully Stroud anyway, which drew out ACH and Ricky Starks. I don't really see a satisfying end to the angle, but that's okay. As long as Hoyt continues to be booked by Inspire Pro, his tormenting of Stroud can be used as a good way to get legit babyface noise for anyone.
  • ACH vs. Lance Hoyt vs. Ricky Starks - You can read about this match below, but believe me, it knocked my socks off.
  • Barbi Hayden vs. Leva Bates - This match would have been a fine title bout had Hayden not lost the NWA Women's Championship the night before in Florida. Hayden has evolved into such a strong heel in the ring, both in using her size to clamp down during heat segments and in finding ways to win cheaply, as evidenced by the finish which felt cheap, but in a good way if that makes sense. Bates was strong here too, especially on offense with her long-legged karate kicks. I don't know where the "Blue Pants is bad" talking point comes from, because when she's not in enhancement mode, she can definitely go.
  • Bates, for the record, cosplayed as Cobra Commander for this card.
  • Hayden promoed on Bates' enhancement status in NXT before the match. On one hand, it's a certain heat magnet, so why not go for it. On the other, it feels like such a bush-league, e-fed QED tactic that it could backfire with the wrong crowd. The Marchesa crowd, however, is not that wrong crowd.
  • Jojo Bravo vs. Mr. B - This match was perhaps the most uneven on the card, more notable for visible shifts in mood and demeanor by Bravo than anything. Mr. B at times looked really slick but he didn't mesh well with Bravo, who is perhaps the personally most disappointing big-time wrestler since I've started following Inspire Pro, at least from an in-ring standpoint.
  • Yes, Mr. B came out with the Pure Prestige Championship belt, which he stole at the last show, giving the announcers a chance to debate the ol' "Possession is nine-tenths of the law" chestnut that seems to be evergreen in pro wrestling.
  • One of the perks of watching the show on tape as opposed to live is that the producers have more freedom to add story tweaks in post production. I doubt that the crowd at the Marchesa was subjected to the high-pitched beep noise and discolored close-up on Bravo midway through the match. I would love to see more of that kind of signpostage in the future and across more promotions as well. You have the ability to doctor things in post; use it.
  • After the match, Thomas Shire came out to reclaim his belt and attack Mr. B in revenge, culminating in a sweet-looking short-arm European uppercut. Even though Shire is more a technical wrestler, it'd be interesting to see how he'd fare in a tense, emotional brawling situation. Mr. B already has that wild street fight with Scotty Santiago under his belt from 2014; he'd be a more-than-capable partner.
  • Bravo after the match cut a promo on the fans' bloodlust and showed some exasperation at his tenure in Inspire Pro to that point, which was a refreshing change from the usual post-match "Davey Richardsing" that usually happens with the mic after matches. Reno, who was on commentary during the match, confronted Bravo for his change in attitude, which led to some shoving. Reno has become one of Inspire's go-to guys, so a feud between those two wouldn't be the worst idea.
  • Jessica James vs. Vanessa Kraven - This match was a classic David vs. Goliath set-up, if Goliath could do things like super-stiff corner cannonball splashes and other athletic stuff. James' offense made sense for fighting a much larger opponent, and the spot where she countered an offensive with her arching scorpion kick was amazing in its suddenness. But Kraven imposing her size and hitting big power moves with authority made her a perfect addition to the card.
  • The next segment had Ray Rowe talking about his motorcycle accident in full detail with Friedrich, and it's amazing that he survived let alone came back to wrestling in full in the time he was able to recuperate. I think I'd take Rowe in a fight with the Grim Reaper any day.
  • Matthew Palmer, Franco D'Angelo, and Ray Rowe vs. "Dirty" Andy Dalton, Davey Vega, and Tim Storm - This match was the crazy, throw-shit-at-the-wall main event that this show needed to have on top. Everyone was on point, even D'Angelo, whose year run in Inspire Pro to that point had been erratic at best. Dalton showed why he's probably been Inspire Pro's in-ring MVP with his dedication to being as scuzzy as possible and finding the shortcut as creatively as he could. He tried recreating the finish from Ecstasy of Gold early on the match, resorted to biting the thigh, and avoiding Palmer at any cost until the very end. The faces did a good job of subtly creating dissension as well, with Palmer doing his normal finish with Rowe instead of D'Angelo.
  • After the match, D'Angelo got on the mic and called out Rowe, saying that he respected him but didn't like him. It was a simple, effective lead-in for their match the next month.

Match of the Night: ACH vs. Lance Hoyt vs. Ricky Starks - Three way matches have a low rate of satisfaction for whatever reason. Adding the third person sometimes is a cheap way to cut around storytelling or provide a quick deus ex machina for something to happen at the end of the match that could have been achieved through outside interference or better planning. But when a three-way match is good, it can be magical. ACH, Starks, and Hoyt got together and told a cohesive story with the three man gimmick and elevated their contest above the rest of a strong, strong card in the process. ACH's performance reminisced of his magnificent 2012, while Hoyt turned in maybe the best performance of his that I've ever seen.

The match had such a well-developed story in two parts. The first saw Starks and ACH attempt to double team Hoyt to take him down, with the larger member of the Killer Elite Squad mostly taking them down singlehandedly. They could have lazily worked through that due to the immense size difference between Hoyt and each of the other two competitors, but each wrestler threw their weight behind their performances. The smaller guys bumped, and Hoyt kept his own engine running, showing that size alone wasn't going to beat them, but size and energy. He was the perfect monolith.

But then when Hoyt finally was neutralized and Starks turned inward against ACH, the match's narrative showed its complex threads, and even at the point in the beginning of the match where the two "showed-off" against each other for the crowd, they added more than one overarching wrinkle to the proceedings. Brandon Stroud's involvement in the end made sense as well, and even though it, without context, may have cheapened a babyface win, it played into a long-standing story and provided some catharsis for a character in the show. Plus ACH's chokeslam counter into the pinning combination at the end was super slick.

Overall Thoughts: Ecstasy of Gold II, while still worth the watch, was a departure from the action-packed, all-killer, no-filler tone set by Inspire Pro Wrestling. It was less a "Lone Star PWG" show as much as it was one of those story-heavy Chikara shows that are sprinkled between the marquee cards. I'm happy to report back that Undeniable was undeniably more in the vein of Relentless and Battlewars '14. This show was jam packed from first bell to final curtain with hot action, big spots, and especially giant-sized men and women exerting their dominance. While the show certainly featured its fair share of smaller and more athletic competitors, the hosses were on the prowl and perhaps made the biggest impact by throwing their considerable weight around. The biggest upset in that vein is that Keith Lee wasn't even on the show.

Of course, Undeniable wasn't the first time the bigger wrestlers were on display; Relentless had the HOSS BOWL, for crying out loud. But so many of the best performances on the show were scattered across the card and were had by the larger-than-life behemoths, when most indie shows feature the smaller competitors. One might expect Ray Rowe or Vanessa Kraven to own, but it was refreshing to see other quantities, whether unknown (at least to me) like Alex Reigns and Tim Storm or underwhelming in the past like Franco D'Angelo and Lance Hoyt, come out and shine. Even Angelus Layne, who's not a giant in her own right but might as well be one in comparison to the diminutive Delilah Doom, was able to channel her inner HOSS and believably pull off the giant act at her size.

Of course, the giants stood out, but the whole cast came to party. The match quality was insane in how consistently good it was. While some matches were better than others, even the lower tier ones on the show were engaging and had big, eye-popping spots that felt energetic, even to the eye that had been sitting for three-plus hours taking it all in. The run time on the show was in the neighborhood of three hours and 40 minutes, which is pretty long by most standards other than Central Texas' (seriously, whether Inspire or Anarchy Championship Wrestling, Austin and San Antonio shows go the distance). To have a show be that packed for that long is nothing short of stupendous.

Whether you get this show on DVD or make the trip for Ecstasy of Gold III: Gold Runs Cold, you should make it a point to let Inspire Pro Wrestling into your life. In fewer than three years, it has become one of the premiere independent wrestling promotions in the country, and it deserves your support and money, whether for video or live shows. Undeniable is just another example of the kind of quality and quantity you get when you attend or view the best wrestling in Texas.