WrestleWatch: PWA Colosseum 2019 (Night 1)
It has been a crazy past few days for me as a wrestling fan. The source of the excitement and entertainment wasn't WWE, or AEW, or NJPW, but rather something a little more home-grown- Pro Wrestling Australia, based just an hour away from home in Sydney, held their second annual Colosseum tournament.
I've posted previously here and there about PWA. The growth of the promotion since I first started watching in January 2018 has been astounding. I first attended PWA Black Label at Parramatta RSL, when they brought in Bad Luck Fale and Gino Gambino of the Bullet Club. Their opponents that night, Mick Moretti and Jack Bonza of the Nations stable, were two Aussie wrestlers I was familiar with due to Rock And Roll Wrestling, a local Wollongong-based promotion that I've been going to since 2014. The whole show and every wrestler on the roster was impressive enough that I started attending shows on a monthly basis.
I couldn't have timed my increased focus on the Aussie wrestling scene much better, because PWA quickly outgrew the RSL venues, and now calls Max Watts (near the Hordern Pavilion) in Sydney home. The atmosphere, the crowd, the heart and passion of every wrestler and performer on the show... strongly reminds me of the glory days of ECW. And Max Watts is our Hammerstein Ballroom.
So what has caused the Aussie wrestling scene, and PWA in particular, to explode so much in the past 2 years? I would wager that Will Ospreay played a large role in causing people to notice. His match with Robbie Eagles (someone I've also watched for many years at Rock And Roll) at Call To Arms 2017 caused wrestling fans internationally to pay attention. But all the credit can't be given to the visitors. Robbie Eagles has been grinding for years, and is just now getting rewarded with a featured role in NJPW. At home in Australia, Mick Moretti drummed up some buzz with his social media campaigning, the hashtags #You'reGonnaNoticeUs and #NowWeConquer have really resonated with the wrestling fanbase. Australian wrestling is a viable scene that could be put up against any of the best worldwide. And with that, it's time to Enter The Colosseum.
Last year, PWA invited wrestlers from all around the country to take part in a good old-fashioned pro wrestling tournament. The inaugural Colosseum show saw the quarterfinals take place, then the semifinals went down at Fridays Are For The Babes, and the finals were at The Fight For Black Metal, which saw Mick Moretti defeat Nations tag team partner Jack Bonza to claim the glorious sword.
It was a high level tournament, featuring the best talent from all over Australia. Worth noting too that Kellyanne did not actually participate due to some unfortunate last minute travel issues. "Tuff Stuff" Ricky South took her place and proceeded to have one of the best matches all year, albeit in a losing effort, to Paris De Silva in the Quarter Finals.
My one issue with the tournament was that it was spread out over such a long period of time. As I mentioned in the King Of The Ring blogs, I love pro wrestling tournaments, but my favourite aspect of them is the gruelling nature of going through the field, wrestlers being forced to go through multiple matches in one night. The old KOTR tournaments were great for doing it all in one night and feeling like a big deal, or even just the semis and finals in one night was good. Spreading it out so much is something I really disliked about WWE bringing back the King Of The Ring this year, and same with PWA last year. Without the multiple matches in one night, it just feels like a bunch of random matches that just happen to go together in the brackets, no different to the regular wrestling schedule (Side note, I make exceptions for the G1/Best of the Super Juniors in New Japan. That keeps a hectic schedule that maintains the tournament grind feel). As far as the inaugural tournament, they had some excellent matches, but it was far too spread out. I mean, the winner of the 2018 Colosseum tournament was crowned in February 2019!
Thankfully, PWA did it in a far more streamlined fashion this year. Having the tournament take place over a weekend is intense, and also adds to the prestige of it all in my opinion. It was built up for many months, arguably surpassing the anniversary show Call To Arms in importance on the PWA calendar. And while, like last year, they put together a tournament of Aussie wrestlers from both PWA and inter-state, this time they upped the ante. They brought in someone from WWE, "the Kiwi Buzzsaw" Travis Banks, who works on the NXT UK brand. They brought in "Freshly Squeezed" Orange Cassidy, an enigma of a wrestler who is signed to AEW, the hottest new brand worldwide in pro wrestling. The stars are here to shine in this one!
I attended both nights of the Colosseum tournament and it was honestly among the best live pro wrestling experiences I've ever had. Let me start by saying that if I was to rate the shows as a live experience, it's an easy 10/10. Possibly even 11/10 as far as Night 2 goes. But given that these shows are broadcast live to the world on OVO Play, I thought it was only fair to review them in the same way as I would a WWE, AEW or NJPW show- as a TV show/PPV, watching it back to catch things like commentary and the production aspects- which are honestly as world-class as the wrestling action, and another area where PWA has come so far in leaps and bounds.
The show opens with a sweet new intro video, and a new theme song that includes lyrics along the lines of "you're gonna notice us". Something about noticing. It's such good shit. Most of the new highlights shown are from the Max Watts venue, which is such a big aesthetic step up from the old RSL days.
We have beloved ring announcer Diego Retamales back! He looks as happy to be there as the PWA faithful are to see him. It's a total love-fest. Diego is full of positive vibes. JT Robinson is a good announcer, PJ Lane is growing on me, but Diego's charisma and energy is next-level.
Match 1: Ricky South def. Davis Storm in a Round 1 Colosseum tournament match
Thoughts: The Godfather of Australian Pro Wrestling, Davis Storm gets no love from Max Watts. Chants of "you're a shit cunt" are frequent. Conversely, everyone LOVES "Tuff Stuff" Ricky South! He gets an elaborate entrance with a drag queen and dancers. Recently freed from a jarring heel turn joining SMS as "The Official" Richard South, Ricky is back at his flamboyant best here. As a tenured veteran giving up size, Storm has the calculated strategy of working the left arm, which takes away a great deal of Ricky's power game, but he guts through the pain and hits a ONE-ARMED piledriver to advance! Great action to kick off the tournament. (***1/2)
Post-match, they shake hands in a show of sportsmanship... DAMMIT Davis Storm attacks Ricky South, being a sore loser. He keeps ripping and tearing at the arm until the ref pries him away. South gets the big win to move on in the Colosseum tournament, but he's certainly going to be compromised going forward.
Match 2: Shazza McKenzie def. Hooligan Marcus Kool, Carter Deams and Unsocial Jordan in a Fatal 4 Way to become the No. 1 Contender to the PWA Championship
Thoughts: This was a cool mix of characters here, no pun intended. Another fun element is that Shazza McKenzie and Unsocial Jordan are married, something Rose and Kris Gale draw attention too. The crowd rightfully gets on Jordan's case as usual and the leader of SMS requested that the crowd refrain from swearing, through Diego who adds, "I think I can speak for everyone here when I say Jordan can go fuck himself". I wish we could keep Diego. Deams has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, letting everyone know that "there's two BABES"- referencing his tag partner Matty Wahlberg's meteoric rise through the ranks in PWA. Kool gets in Shazza's face and pays the price. Former PWWA Champion Shazza is really on her game here, getting a really close near fall off a huge powerbomb on Deams. She takes out all 3 opponents with a top rope cross body, and a short time later thwarts Jordan's attempt at hitting her with his tripod (minds out of the gutter, guys). Shazza hits her husband with the filming apparatus, followed by the Shaztastic Stunner for the 3! A fun ride throughout, kept a fast pace and everyone had moments to shine. (***1/4- the quarter is for Diego's line)
With that victory, Shazza will face the winner of tomorrow's Caveman Ugg vs. Jack Bonza match. Either option is pretty damn intriguing!
A video package is aired from Rory Gulak, doing a promo about Colosseum from the actual Colosseum in Rome. Very cool. Rory is the brother of former WWE Cruiserweight Champion Drew Gulak.
Match 3: Rory Gulak def. Tree Hugger Luchi
Thoughts: Armed with one of the best themes in PWA (Halestorm's "I Miss The Misery"), Tree Hugger Luchi makes his return to the promotion after a stint at the Fale Dojo, according to commentary. He's playing to the crowd in seemingly a babyface role. Admittedly, I'm not familiar with Rory, but he is announced as "representing Catch Point", which I believe is a stable in EVOLVE. This is a highly technical battle, lots of chain and mat wrestling. Rose admits that they're going to piss off "hardcore wrestling fans" by not being able to call all the moves. If you ever want someone to do that, send me a message, PWA! It's definitely a different style to the power moves and hard hits in Storm vs. South, and lacks the high flying and big spots of the Fatal 4 Way, but it's a very impressive display nonetheless, and the crowd is respectful and into it, reacting when both men trade straitjacket holds. Rory, out to prove that Gulak means wrestling, controls the pace for much of the match. He locks in a modified bow and arrow, turns Luchi into a pretzel. Luchi fights back and hits his trademark springboard corkscrew splash for a great near fall, followed by a picture-perfect Superfly Splash. Big time Luchi chants from the crowd while Rose and Gale note the changed perception for the Tree Hugger. Series of reversals ends with Rory locking in the Gu-lock for the submission victory! Definitely a change of pace, but a welcome one. I've argued with people on forums who say that indy wrestling, and at times PWA itself, is too spot-heavy, well this match was a big "fuck you" to that opinion. Technical mastery, I now know what Rory Gulak is all about, and Luchi looked excellent in his return on maybe the biggest stage in Aussie wrestling (***1/2)
Rory Gulak and Luchi shake hands after the match. This time, it's a genuine display of sportsmanship, which Rose and Gale point out. Look, as much as I want to be one of those annoying wrestling nerds and pick on them for not calling moves and holds, the fact is they've come a long way. You can tell they've built a respect for wrestling and the Aussie wrestling scene over the past year or so of calling PWA shows, they make a point to advance the characters and stories. The early shows felt like they were taking the piss a little, whereas now they still have fun, but generally treat things seriously when required.
Match 4: Massive Q wins a Tag Team Gauntlet by pinning the Prefects
Thoughts: This whole match is the Prefects show, and it works brilliantly. Billy Preston and Jimmy Townsend play great underdog comedy character in this schoolboy gimmick. Their catchphrase is "Nobody kicks out of the Schoolboy"- a simple pro wrestling roll-up that the boys have mastered. The phrase holds true as they inexplicably eliminate every team with the pinning move- Speed Force (the combo of Mat Diamond & Mat Rogers), The Kelly Gang, Backman and Silvio, Juan Direction, LUX and the Black Shirt Cool Group. Massive Q comes on last, takes out his own partner Zack Reynolds, and goes it alone. The Prefects can't get the schoolboy on the 171kg Massive Q, and he flattens them both in short order. A bit of a one-note comedy deal, but as far as one-note comedy goes, it was pretty damn good, we loved it and it's building to something bigger on Night 2. (**1/2)
Post-match, the Prefects grab the mic. They tell Massive Q that they are going to make Q "fight someone his own size". The crowd picks up what the boys are putting down, with loud, passionate chants of "James Adultman". We'll get into who and what James Adultman is in the Night 2 review.
On a sad note, Party Boy Jax Jordan sadly retired with this match. He tore his quad in the PWA Rumble a couple of months ago. He hobbled to the ring mid-match after Concrete Davidson started his portion of the Gauntlet match alone, and was tagged in to immediately take a schoolboy. Sad to see a talented young guy have to end his career so early, but he'll still be a part of PWA going forward. Did a bit of digging and found out that he is responsible for producing hype videos, so he will still be a very valuable asset to the PWA family going forward. Wishing Jax all the best.
The next PWA event... The Prefects 18th Birthday Party! December 7. I'll be there! You mean those IDs they've been using are... fake? One of the great kayfabe mysteries left in today's modern wrestling world- the actual age of the Prefects. A "holy shit" chant in Max Watts. I love this place!
Match 5: Matty Wahlberg def. "World Class" Chris Basso in a Round 1 Colosseum match
Thoughts: Basso represents Adelaide, from the Riot City Wrestling promotion. He comes out to an instrumental rock version of Celine Dion. He calls Frankie B into the ring to do the Titanic pose. She doesn't really oblige, and looks super embarrassed. Bad form. When Matty Wahlberg makes his entrance, he grabs Diego and they go ALL IN with it! Wahlberg might be the biggest star in PWA given that Robbie Eagles' schedule is starting to fill up with more and more Japan dates. His athleticism and charisma is off the charts. I thought he was something special 2 years ago when he did a Rock N Roll Wrestling Academy show, and even though he was a couple of months into his pro wrestling career at that point, he seemed miles above everyone else on that show. Colosseum seems to be his coming out party, and he brings the MMA style to Basso early, taunting him with jabs and looking for his triangle submission early. Down the stretch, Basso goes for a moonsault and Wahlberg catches him in the triangle! Amazing spot. Basso fights out by powering out, but the 21st Century Success Story is unrelenting, going straight back in with a flying triangle! Basso finally taps. Could the Wahlberg Era finally be upon us? (***1/2)
Intermission time. OVO Play throws to a replay of a classic PWA match, Robbie Eagles vs. Adam Brooks vs. Jonah Rock (in his final PWA appearance before joining WWE/NXT as Bronson Reed). It's an amazing match, but it's just about unwatchable with the sound of a timer counting down until we're back with the rest of Colosseum. Like a super annoying dripping tap. It's giving me a headache just thinking about it again.
Match 6: "Kiwi Buzzsaw" Travis Banks def. "Prize Bull" Sam Osborne in a Round 1 Colosseum match
Thoughts: Osborne comes out with an elaborate entrance, with beautiful women singing and dancing to his theme song. One wraps his scarf around his neck, one gives him a kiss, one gives him a coffee. He's living his best life. The crowd is hugely behind Travis Banks, but also give a little respect to Osborne, who is a "PWA guy". Serious hold exchanges here. A lot of tension in the air, but good tension. Fast pace, early pinning attempts, stand off. Appreciation from the crowd. The kicks and chops start flying. Banks taking Osborne to the woodshed here. They fight on the outside, Osborne sits on a fan and Banks chops him. Aggression level heightening here. Back and forth, Banks goes for the Slice of Heaven but Osborne kicks the legs out from under him and takes control. Osborne takes his jumper and wears it over his face to mock Travis's attire, leading to a chant of "North Shore Buzzsaw". Brilliant. Outstanding. Did I mention I love this place? These two are seriously going at it for a Round 1 match! Osborne slows down the striking of Banks with a nice kneebar, but the Kiwi Buzzsaw makes the ropes. Close call though. Banks gets back to firing shots at the face and chest of Osborne again. He fires Osborne off the ropes then hits the Slice Of Heaven (flying kick from the second rope) for the win! MOTN to this point (****)
Match 7: The Nations def. Caveman Ugg & The Velocities in a Trios Match
Thoughts: This was basically a way to hype the big PWA Championship match on Night 2 between Bonza and Ugg. It was structured really well, with Moretti, Hoffman and the Velocities providing a lot of fast paced, athletic offense, while Bonza and Ugg came in as the hosses to trade hard hits. There's a brilliant spot where Bonza and Ugg use their respective smaller opponents as human projectiles- the old "hit a motherfucker with another motherfucker" as it was coined on Twitter. Just when everything looks like it's breaking down with dives to the outside, Hoffman takes advantage of lucha rules by intercepting a charging Jude with a bridging pin for the win. Not a super long match, and it flew by with the amount of non-stop action. Really good preview of Night 2, but also just an exciting six-man, sorry, Trios match in it's own right. (***1/2)
We get the creepy as fuck video of Jessica Troy taking a PWA rookie hostage at the academy and then ripping his arm off. She's terrifying. Lovely, but terrifying.
Match 8: Orange Cassidy def. Jessica Troy in a Round 1 Colosseum match
Thoughts: The crowd was into both wrestlers heavily. I had never seen a full Orange Cassidy match before this, just highlights and run-ins (or walk-ins?). His whole "I don't give a fuck" persona is hilarious. It's like he just rolled out of bed and was like "fuck it, guess I'm having a wrestling match". The match is built around Jess trying to get Cassidy's arms, but he avoids it by keeping his hands in his pockets. I'm loving this whole thing with Orange- his schtick is funny AND smart- he could work that style for a long time without injury. Eventually the pace picks up when Orange loses his sunglasses, and he starts flying around then. He gives Jess a taste of her own medicine by working her arm to great effect. After we move from comedy slowly into a more serious contest, Cassidy and Troy trade the advantage. Finally, Jess wears down "Freshly Squeezed" enough to lock in her patented armbar, but Cassidy is able to counter into a roll-up for the 3 count! In the theme of the night, this was so much fun. (***3/4)
Post-match, Orange Cassidy raises Jessica Troy's arm, and she returns the favour. In the ultimate show of respect, Orange gives her his trademark sunnies. And that does it for Night 1 of Colosseum!
Colosseum weekend represented a paradigm shift for Australian wrestling. It received so much hype and attention within the Aussie wrestling community in the build-up that it might have seemed difficult to live up to. On Night 1, PWA smashed even the most lofty of expectations. Every single element of pro wrestling was done to near-perfection- we had action, comedy, drama, lights, glitz, glamour and most of all... fun. It set the stage for a monumental Night 2, but it also succeeded on its own merits as a high quality stand-alone pro wrestling show. I've been to Wrestlemania, NXT Takeover, New Japan... and PWA showed itself to be on-par and at times better than those shows. Every time I think they've reached the highest of heights, they go and build another level on the building.
Until next time, take care,