|You gotta give it up to Jon Gresham|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
The King Is Here - The advertised main event was Jonathan Gresham defending his Powerbomb TV Independent Wrestling Championship against legendary British indie superstar Jody Fleisch. However, because indie wrestling is a peril-filled death trap for anyone who even thinks about working a single match, Fleisch got injured the night prior at Absolute Intense Wrestling. While he'll be able to go home to the UK and get himself some of that sweet, sweet nationalized healthcare, it still didn't help that he wasn't medically cleared for the next two nights (he was also scheduled for Alpha-1 in Canada for Sunday). What were the show producers to do?
Luckily, someone else familiar with the Philadelphia scene and several Powerbomb TV promotions also worked in Cleveland the night before and was available for some gang affiliated MDK. Nick Gage made the surprise appearance to cut off Stokley Hathaway's attempted wrangling of a night off for his client, which was both supremely satisfying and mystifyingly weird given the venue and the host promotion's aversion to everything Combat Zone Wrestling. Aside from the actual delivery on a bill of goods, Gage's appearance showed other promotions how to make good on circumstance. One major wrestler has to duck out for legitimate reasons, and he's replaced by someone who might actually have more currency, especially in that city. Some of the best things happen by accident.
For the match itself, it's easy to see why Gage is so special nowadays. Sure, years of deathmatch wrestling have left him stripped of some mobility, and no one will accuse him of being able to go toe-to-toe with a technical marvel the level of Gresham. That being said, you don't go to see Gage to watch him chain holds together. You see him because you want to see someone get hurt. The King's presence is still fearsome because he projects it so well. You could see it in his body language and his relentless pursuit of his opponent. It helped that Gresham bought into the presence.
The most underreported part of Gage's appeal is actually his selling and his capacity for taking maybe not huge bumps, but violent looking ones at least. Selling isn't just some thing that nerds look at on an evaluation form to make sure things look real; it's the source of all pathos and conflict in a given match. It's how someone as sociopathic and violent as Gage can feel vulnerable and amplify the groundswell of support throughout a match. It was on full display Saturday night, and it heightened the drama.
Even though the match was framed more about Gage than Gresham, I'm not about to discount how much of it was due to the Champ's direction. It's really inside baseball to note things like how well someone calls the match, but Gresham was clearly directing traffic here. He did a great job playing to his opponent's strengths in addition to showing off his own wares. The limb work and selling made sense even if it wasn't factoring directly into the finish, and the big spots, like Gage getting buried underneath all the chairs, and the finish, which was Gresham holding Gage in a rear naked choke outside the ring until the nine count getting the countout win, both were worthy of a main event match on a supershow.
Big Stoke Doin' Thangs - It also bears mentioning that Hathaway continues to be the best at his job. He's such a heat magnet, and it was on display not just with his shenanigans in the Gage match, but in the MJF/Tom Lawlor match. He showed he's still the platonic ideal for what a manager should be and that he'd have fit in any era. Gresham definitely needs him to be a believable heel presence, but the funny thing is that MJF probably doesn't, and yet no one should question the decision to pair them together. Hathaway enhances everyone he's with.
Speaking of MJF and Lawlor, god, that match was so fun if just for all the antics and shit-talking. Both guys are heat magnets, and the way Lawlor worked, you'd think he wasn't just in his first or second year of pro wrestling after a career of trying to beat the shit out of dudes for real. He's the rare guy who has an aesthetic that he lives up to 100 percent. So what if that persona is couched in grime and grunge? No one said pro wrestling was pretty.
QUACK QUACK QUACK - If you want the biggest revelation from WAZZUP, you need look no further than Lance Lude, Rob Killjoy, and Cousin Mikey, the Ugly Ducklings. The Southern indies have been telling everyone about them for about a year now, and everyone should have been listening judging by how much energy they brought to the room. Between the big risk-taking offense, innovative double teams, and Mikey acting as the big cheerleader on the outside, the Ducklings were instant hits with the crowd from the moment they stepped out from the back curtain. They had the perfect opponents as well. John Silver should wrestle everyone, and Jay Freddie pairing with him wasn't just someone to complement Silver, but to be on the same level as him. The Thick (Thicc?) Boys should be the anchors of the northeast tag scene the way the Ducklings and the Carnies are in the South.
The Match of the Night - The best thing to do for four guys that may or may not be known to a crowd is to put them in a match and let them just hit their spots ad infinitum. Before the show, maybe everyone had heard of Razerhawk given the venue, and people knew of Logan Easton Leroux, but under a different Chikarafied name (Race Jaxon), but after the match, everyone in the crowd was left with a far more positive impression. Everyone brought their A-games, and it showed with a well-structured, high-flying, hard-hitting second match on the card. However, if AJ Gray isn't booked everywhere after that match, it shows people don't pay attention. That dude showed everything one wants out of a wrestler: body language, highspots, hard hitting action, facial expressions, banter. I can't imagine any situation where you'd watch that match and not come out impressed with Gray at least. But all four guys brought it. Leroux showed how to play a working-class wrestling crowd. Greene felt like he could have tightened up a bit, but he played his role well. And of course, Razerhawk showed that the Colony has worthy successors in Chikara. All in all, it was an enjoyable spotfest that stoked the fires even hotter for the rest of the show.
LATE NIGHT BRYCE! - Full disclosure, yeah, I actually participated in the first episode of This Very Second with Bryce Remsburg as an audience member plucked up to do a faux promo. Maybe you might find that a bit conflict of interest-y, but even if I didn't go up and try to do performance art with my attempt at a wrestling promo (and let me tell you, if you thought my promo was good, either you appreciate ironic comedy, or you have a brain injury, either/or), I'd have enjoyed Remsburg branching out into more variety than just pro wrestling.
First off, Orange Cassidy was an inspired choice as his co-host/Ed McMahon, but you knew that. Second, his non-Hathaway guests were actually, legitimately were funny, not just "inside baseball pro wrestling" funny. The only thing that felt a little too hokey was the end with Cassidy calling out a fan in the front row who was dressed up like a giant bug monster. I thought it might have given more of an Andy Kaufman funny thing to have him in the front row with no one paying attention to him, but hey, it got an UltraMantis Black appearance to happen, so I can't complain too much. Either way, I hope This Very Second gets several more episodes to work the studio space, because "other" programming shouldn't just be something WWE Network gets to partake in, especially when some of the best comedic and entertainment minds in wrestling aren't working for Titan.