With local wrestling options often somewhat limited, it’s important for Eastern Iowan wrestling fans to be aware of some of the great independent wrestling in the world today. This irregular feature will take a look at great wrestling shows well worth watching by fans.
Combat Zone Wrestling is an interesting beast. It was originally founded as an out-and-out attack on the waning days of ECW, when that promotion was moving its focus away from the high-violence level for which it became famous. CZW focused on what they called ultra-violence, an insane level of garbage hardcore wrestling that could leave a casual fan sick to their stomach.
Over the last few years, the promotion has started to move away from that style. While ultraviolent matches still regularly take one or two spots on the card (or fill it in the case of the annual Tournament of Death), CZW builds itself much more now around a healthy group of solid young mat wrestlers and high-flyers, almost using their more violent wrestlers as featured bouts to finish the show.
Of course, once a year the ultra-violence moves completely to the background as they hold their annual straight wrestling tournament known as Best of the Best. In 2011, CZW booked perhaps the best of the Best of the Bests with a stacked card from the former ECW Arena in Philadelphia.
The twelve man tournament opens with four three-way elimination matches to determine the semi-finalists. The first match booked CZW star and blue chipper Jonathan Gresham against former Chikara star Akuma and young British superstar Zack Sabre Jr., representing CZW’s German sister organization WXW. With three great mat technicians in the ring, this match proved that all the men could really go in traditional catch as catch can wrestling. Gresham would pin Akuma at the half way point of the match, finally avenging two straight losses to “The Warrior”, but the major ring presence of Sabre ultimately was too much for Gresham who tapped to a cross armbreaker.
The second elimination match featured Dragon Gate & EVOLVE’s Johnny Gargano, ROH’s Kyle O’Reilly, and CZW & ROH star Adam Cole. Cole and O’Reilly, a tag team in Ring of Honor, worked together to dismantle Gargano for much of the first half of the match. Some miscommunication results in Cole and O’Reilly losing the same page, but not before O’Reilly makes Gargano tap. O’Reilly and Cole continued the strike heavy battle, but ultimately CZW World Light Heavyweight champion Adam Cole took the win with his Corona Kick.
The third match pits two high flying technical wrestlers Dragon Gate & Chikara’s Chuck Taylor and Pro Wrestling Guerilla’s Brandon Gatson against ultra-heavy hitter from Big Japan Wrestling, the absolutely brutal Daisuke Sekimoto. Gatson & Taylor work together to try to take down Sekimoto, but Daisuke’s massive strength allows him to impressively fight off both men. Gatson leaves the match first, after landing a brutal German suplex on both men. Taylor tried to fight off Sekimoto, but the big man was just too much for the “Kentucky Gentleman” and a massive bridging German puts Chuckie T away.
The final first-round match pits Insanity Pro Wrestling representative Jake Crist (one half of the Irish Airborne) against two CZW regulars, the high-flying AR Fox and “The New Horror” Sami Callihan, one of the fastest rising stars in the indie scene. This match easily featured the most high-flying as Crist and Fox start at fast with their airborne style. Though less of a flyer, Sami kept up with his two opponents’ speed. After landing a brutal 360 flipping Tiger Driver on AR Fox, Crist fell to Sami’s Stretch Muffler finish. Fox and Sami continue the high-flying battle, but ultimately Callihan again gets the Stretch Muffler, forcing AR Fox to tap.
Four absolutely stunning matches, and all in just under an hour of in-ring action. Non-tournament action started at the hour mark with Wired TV champion being thrown from the ring by Devon More and CZW tag champions Mark and Jay Briscoe against CZW World champion “The Ego” Robert Anthony and Philly’s Most Wanted, Joker and the Blk Jeez (formerly Sabian) with both titles on the line. With six wrestlers famous for their strong style hits, this match featured some absolutely brutal strikes, but it all came down to substitute referee (and ally to The Ego and Philly’s Most Wanted) Jon Moxley trying to cheat for his team. Ultimately, the Briscoes leveled Moxley and former CZW wrestler, friend of Moore, and new referee Drew Blood hit the ring to count Devon Moore’s victory over “The Ego”. With Moxley making his final appearance in CZW (as he recently signed a WWE developmental deal), he is laid out by one of his greatest enemies in CZW: the staff of the promotion.
That ends the first disc of CZW’s Best of the Best. Read the second half of the review of this epic event here.