Monday, December 18, 2017

Promotions to Watch: Game Changer Wrestling

Janela's a huge reason to follow Game Changer Wrestling
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Death match wrestling is a mixed bag. Some people love it and can't get enough of the ultraviolence, while others cringe at the mere thought of things they've heard people do in those kinds of matches. The truth is death match promotions aren't just places for light tubes and barbed wire anymore. Sure, they have a lot of that kinda stuff going on, but they've basically become havens for all different kinds of wrestlers, mainly brawlers who aren't going to show up on the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Technical ballot. Then again, sometimes, you will see the prestige grapplers showing up. I mean, Jonathan Gresham is a proud Combat Zone Wrestling alumnus. CZW is the stateside promotion most people think of when it comes to the new generation of extreme, but a new kid has come up on the block a few counties north in the state of New Jersey. Game Changer Wrestling has looked to be just that, a game changer, not just in the arena of hardcore wrestling, but also as a haven for the misfits in the wrestling world, kinda like what CZW was and attempts to continue to be.

Discussion, good or bad, of GCW focuses mainly around three wrestlers, two good, one bad. The first name that should be on everyone's lips is Nick Gage. Since being released from prison a second time, Gage has picked up where he left off the first time, kicking ass and taking names in promotions around the country. Whether it be wrestling the Faces of Fear in Black Label Pro, rising to the top of Absolute Intense Wrestling, or doing spot work for Powerbomb TV, Gage has become a transcendent talent on the indie scene, one it desperately needs. However, he's made no secret that GCW is his home. Since getting back, outside of tournaments, he's become the promotion's top guy for welcoming visitors. His resume includes Teddy Hart, Matt Riddle, Miedo Extreme, and Darby Allin among others. He's also traded victories with Matt Tremont, who's pretty much become the newest godfather of the death match scene, and of course, he promotes his own death match tournament under the GCW banner. If you want to guarantee that you'll see the King in his own environment at his best where he's the most comfortable, you go to GCW.

Gage is so ride or die for GCW that he invaded Cage of Death this year along with former CZW referee Brett Lauderdale. The notable thing about that act was that it may or may not have been an angle. Even if it was a shoot, it shows that the spirit of unpredictability lives with this guy, and as long as it doesn't end up with people getting shot (or shot on), it might end up being a good thing. This kind of shit doesn't happen with "respectable" promotions, but with the death match crowd, I'd expect it and be disappointed if it didn't happen. Gage and the crew have even invited DJ Hyde to go to the next GCW show, which the promotional material clearly states not to mistake for advertisement that he'll be there. Either way though, it's something to look forward to in the coming year. When bigger promotions outside WWE stagnate or try to suckle on the WWE teat, GCW is out here making waves thanks to Gage, and it's at least interesting.

Speaking of making waves, one would be remiss to speak on GCW's big year without mentioning Joey Janela. Gage's big Invitational Tournament appealed to the promotions core crowd, but Janela's Spring Break during Mania week was talked about for different reasons. Out of sheer force of will and booking decisions that few other promoters would even dream of touching, Janela put together the most eccentric and yet preeminently satisfying shows of the year, catering to so many different crowds. If wrestling is to be a variety show at its creative zenith, then the Joey Janela Spring Break show is the best card of the year, by far. Janela is another wrestler who ventures about the country, working for various promotions, but it's GCW that gave him the biggest outlet of his career. In a way, he's inextricably linked to the promotion, and this it's where he puts in his most important work.

Unfortunately, SHLAK is also indelibly connected to GCW and not for good reasons. People have shunned CZW or at least put it under fire rightfully for turning the book over to Sami Callihan, an accused domestic abuser who has paid zero for his accused misdeeds and shown even less remorse. However, GCW is not a moral alternative1 because of its continued booking and harboring of SHLAK, who has had ties to Nazi groups in the past and whose response to those accusations has been to deflect and say that both Nazis and antifa are equally bad. In the current context, where White supremacist groups are coming out of the woodwork and making their presences felt, a wrestling company can't harbor someone who could very well pose a threat to audience members for their very existences. Companies rushed to cancel bookings of Michael Elgin for his utter disregard for safety of female fans in the crowd, and rightfully so. What will it take to get a Nazi out of this promotion? GCW and the people who run it and who carry its banners need to take a good hard look and decide whether they want to protect a Nazi sympathizer at the very least, or if they want to get right and maybe start to make a minuscule difference.

It would be a shame if they decided SHLAK was more important, because GCW feels like a relevant promotion otherwise. The wrestlers it books and the freedom it gives them is unmatched by any other promotion in the country and perhaps the world, outside of Dramatic Dream Team in Japan. It's a company that scratches a lot of itches, and even if you're not a death match person (trust me, I'm not, although I've become less and less squeamish towards the style over the years), you should be able to find something there for you going forward, whether it be in archives or in 2018 going forward.

1 - To wit, no wrestling promotion can be considered a moral alternative, because for fuck's sake, every promotion books or is run by some kind of morally decrepit asshole and is some degree of apologetic about it.