Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Revolution Pro: When Thunder Strikes

When I started this blog, one of my first ideas was to tell the story of British wrestling's impact on what is so often seen as a Japanese invention; the "junior" style. Back in December 2011, I wrote about the invaluable experience that the original Tiger Mask and Jushin "Thunder" Liger picked up in their British excursions early in their career, allowing them to become arguably two of the most influential professional wrestlers of all time.

It was a tremendous honour then for me to be present when Liger made his long-awaited return, after 24 years, to British shores, wrestling for Revolution Pro in the historic York Hall, with his English mentor, the legendary Mark "Rollerball" Rocco at ringside.

If you could allow me a moment of personal indulgence....

Yes, that is me, sat between Mark Rocco and Jushin Liger. And, no, I won't stop going on about it.

"When Thunder Strikes" was the first RevPro show I've attended, and the first time I'd ventured deep into Bethnal Green to see a show at York Hall. My first impressions were that it was a fantastically put together, well run show, with a level of professionalism that's sorely lacking from many similar sized promotions. I've seen some complaints about the meet and greet though, personally, aside from it running a little late - something which I know through my own experience, is often unavoidable - I haven't a bad word to say about it. Perhaps I was a little blinded by the opportunity to meet some of my all-time favourites, but it was a thoroughly pleasant experience and all of the wrestlers I spoke to cannot be faulted in how polite and welcoming they are. Whether it was sharing an old anecdote with Doug Williams, Jushin Liger beckoning me to sit closer for a photo, or Prince Devitt cracking a joke, I could hardly have asked for more. The sight of Jushin Liger leaning over his signing table to give a young child a high-five will stay with me for a long time, and will always make me smile. Rocco is one of the nicest, humblest "stars" I've had the chance to meet, and Liger was a class act, and seemed genuinely blown away by the level of appreciation and affection he received.

I'll admit to not being entirely sold on all of the matches on the night - Colt Cabana's British Heavyweight Title defence against Sha Samuels fell flat, with Cabana's style not really lending itself to a chaotic brawl, and not helped by an unconvincing "Dusty finish", and elsewhere MK McKinnan did little to sell himself to me as the purported "future" of British wrestling, and the El Ligero/Mark Haskins match, while a fun opener, never felt like the heated grudge match it was billed as.

El Ligero vs. Mark Haskins - photograph by Patrick W. Reed

I was thoroughly impressed by the first tag team match of the night, pitting Project Ego against the Swords Of Essex. It was my first time seeing either team, and I felt they both played their parts to perfection, with Project Ego as the typical arrogant heels, not afraid to play the fool when the match called for it, and Swords Of Essex doing an excellent job in the sometimes tricky "all smiles" babyface role. High spots and high-flying antics galore, which might not ordinarily be my cup of tea, but it was all held together extremely well, and everyone involved made it a lot of fun to watch. If it weren't a match for the titles, I'd have thought this would have made a better opener than Ligero/Haskins, if it had been up to me.

Doug Williams vs. Hiromu Takahashi - photograph by Patrick W. Reed
Doug Williams, a last minute replacement for the injured Noam Dar, against Hiromu Takahashi may well have been my match of the night. I'm not overly familiar with Takahashi, but I've followed Doug's career for many years, and had the pleasure of watching him perform live on several occasions. Given that this was, as far as I'm aware, Williams' first appearance since his release from TNA, this was far more of a homecoming for him than a showcase for the New Japan Young Lion. As ever, "The Anarchist" was an absolute delight to watch, revelling in a somewhat unfamiliar babyface role, while never losing the slightly sadistic edge that's always made him a consumate heel. There's not a lot that can be said about Williams that's not been said already, but the phrase "no wasted motion" comes immediately to mind - he never looks at a loss for what to do, and everything he does is for a purpose, and that makes for a solid, believable, and very enjoyable encounter. It was an absolute thrill to see Williams dust off the old "Chaos Theory" Rolling German Suplex for the first time in so long, for a well-deserved win.

Marty Scurll's match with MK McKinnan, as I alluded to earlier, fell a little flat for me. McKinnan seemed a bland babyface, with little to make him stand out from the pack, and relied far too heavily on a number of obvious crowd-pleasing spots. Scurll, at least, has come into his own with his current cocky heel persona, and carried himself with an air of confidence and stardom that was perhaps lacking in him earlier. A stunning end sequence wasn't enough to save a lacklustre match, unfortunately.

The big tag team match pitting Dave Mastiff & Davey Boy Smith Jr. against Andy Boy Simmonz & Rampage Brown was a strange one; with so many heavyweights in the ring, there was very little flash or extravagance, though Davey Boy pulled out a gorgeous takedown into a Cross Armbreaker, and an innovative, if clumsy, set-up for the Sharpshooter. The finish seemed awkward and out of nowhere, but allowed the feud between Mastiff and Simmonz to continue while protecting the big guest star - a perfectly good match, but felt marred by not really allowing either of the babyfaces to take a solid role which, in turn, kept us from seeing the "hot tag" moment that the match could probably have done with.

While the Cabana/Samuels match was marred by the problems I mentioned earlier, the wild out of the ring brawling was a welcome change of pace, as no other match on the card had yet gone down that route. I don't know if RevPro had underestimated the fan support that Sha Samuels would receive in "his manor" of the East End, but it was odd to hear a reasonable smattering of boos for the usually much-loved Cabana, and it didn't play well into the false finish.

Team SHAG (Colt Cabana & Greg Burridge) reunited - photograph by Patrick W. Reed
The highlight of that match, for me, though, was in the aftermath, which saw the arrival of Bethnal Green's own Greg Burridge, in what I believe would be his debut RevPro appearance, cutting a spirited, borderline demented promo, reforming the short-lived "Team SHAG" with Cabana ahead of RevPro's next York Hall date in October. I don't know what it is about him, but Burridge is someone I'm always entertained by.

Finally, the main event...what is there to say? Following a by-the-numbers, though believably heartfelt, promo from Mark Rocco putting over the British scene, there was a fantastic buzz about the place. The moment Liger's iconic entrance theme hit, the place erupted, and the atmosphere was incredible - nothing, at any wrestling show I've been to, can compare. I saw Ric Flair at the O2 for TNA, and that moment wasn't half as special as Jushin Liger in York Hall - the disbelief, and the amazement, at seeing such a defining, iconic figure, was palpable.

Jushin Liger vs. Prince Devitt - photograph by Patrick W. Reed
I honestly expected Liger to all but go through the motions for this match - he didn't need to pull out all the stops, it was enough for him just to be there - but perhaps against Prince Devitt, who I would argue may be pound-for-pound the best all-rounder in wrestling today, it's just not possible to have a bad match. It was fast-paced, competitive and extremely hard-hitting, while still allowing Liger to hit the majority of his signature spots, and even to have a little bit of fun interacting with the crowd. The match was classy, with only the odd glimmer of Devitt's current (brilliant) NJPW heel persona, but plenty of believable near falls and genuinely exciting spots - be it Liger's rolling senton from the apron, a picture-perfect Liger Bomb, or Devitt getting insane height on some of the most stunning, vicious double stomps I have ever seen. Of course, Devitt went over, but no one came out of this looking bad, and I can't imagine anyone in the crowd was disappointed.

Jushin Liger & Prince Devitt - photograph by Patrick W. Reed

As a whole, there were mishaps, but I've never known a show without them. The atmosphere was superb, the wrestling was mostly of an excellent standard, and gives me no small amount of confidence in the British wrestling scene at the moment.

Not only that, but it will go down as perhaps the friendliest wrestling show I've ever attended. Normally, the prospect of being approached by lone wrestling fans wanting to strike up a conversation is something that would give me cold sweats, but everyone I met and spoke to was an absolute delight, and I hope to bump into them all again one day on this long, strange road I'm on...

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