Arnold Furious: April 13, 2017. We’re in York Hall, Bethnal Green for RPW’s Epic Encounter show. The show that kicks off Easter bank holiday weekend with a bang. Hosts are Andy Quildan and Andy Boy Simmonz. Andy Q has given up the ring announcer spot to Steve Lynskey, allowing him to focus on commentary. This is where Progress has one up on Rev Pro. They have three promoters. One for ring announcing, one for commentary and another to hold everything together. Andy Q is spreading himself a bit thin.
RPW Tag Team Championship
#CCK (Chris Brookes & Travis Banks) (c) vs. Sami Callihan & Martin Stone
Callihan & Stone know each other from NXT where they wrestled as Solomon Crowe and Danny Burch. #CCK won the titles on one of the Cockpit show. Sami Callihan has a habit of winding me up by encouraging the crowd to clap. It’s not required in the UK. The crowd is already loud. I got so annoyed with him doing it at FCP I was flat-out mouthing off. This match is a strong opener with some canny planned out spots. The champs are supposed to be heel but their arrival disrupted what felt like a static tag division so the crowd love them for it. Sami’s childish sense of glee extends to running around the ring holding hands with Martin. He’s a strange boy. Brookes and Banks are shockingly good as a unit with Travis doing all of Kid Lykos’ spots only somehow with better fluidity. This is a cracking opener because they don’t bother with tags and just ramp up the spots. That’s what you need from a hot opener. Get everyone nice and feisty. The way the match flows you’d think these four had been feuding for years. It’s remarkably strong. It’s the best use of Martin Stone in ages. The way they all run near misses and accidental miscues is great. Sure, the match ignores the concept of tag team wrestling in favour of doing all the spotz but f*ck it, I love it. #CCK have the better continuity and smash Stone with the double team finish they do*. This was fiery good. One of the best Rev Pro openers in a long time.
Final Rating: ****
Post-match: Martin Stone grabs the mic and talks about how much he loves working here. He references WWE as “that place” before expressing his joy at building IPW:UK and his intentions at being a fixture in RPW going forward. The crowd enjoy this sentiment, which is aided by it coming on the back of a fantastic match. Sami Callihan promptly turns on Stone, in a move any wrestling fan could see coming from a million miles away. Sami seems to be upset with Stone for getting fired when he quit WWE. He claims Martin would still be scratching away in Florida if he’d not been let go.
Jay White vs. Angelico
It’s crazy the talent that keeps showing up on these shows. Here’s Angelico because why not? South Africa vs. New Zealand and in terms of mind-set Mexico vs. Japan. It’s a bit of a clash of styles and like most Jay White matches it’s wrestled in front of general disinterest because he has no character. Jay White’s character is that he’s a wrestler who likes wrestling. Sometimes that’s enough but with the sea of talented wrestlers available it results in a flat atmosphere during his matches. There’s nothing wrong with the work at all. It’s good solid grappling and both guys look good but the blandness of the characters is what hurts the crowd’s response. With Jay it’s going to be an issue going forward but with NJPW I’ll bet they have an idea lined up for him. Angelico could force the pace but he’s on holiday and there’s no Jack Evans around so that’s not happening. They tease Angelico hitting his Fall of the Angels finish but Jay counters out and gets the Boston crab for the Young Lions submission. He does try to do it Liontamer style but retaining a young boys finish is perhaps not the best of ideas. This was fine but a cool-down match after a hot opener. The crowd do respond to Jay after the match, suggesting that while the match wasn’t great they do love him. Which is a good spot to be in.
Final Rating: **3/4
Zack Gibson vs. Hirooki Goto
As if Gibson has recorded his promo to be his entrance music. That’s proper genius. Goto had been on RevPro’s NJPW wish list for a while. This is his first trip to the UK. He’s cornered by Will Ospreay because they’re both in CHAOS, which is a nice touch. Gibson tries for his promo and gets that same nuclear heat he gets in Progress, which is fantastic. Being able to generate that kind of heat is a special talent and it basically just comes from Zack talking. Goto isn’t quite sure what to make of it all. He shows deference to Gibson in Zack’s House by selling extensively. Gibson has added a deliberate botch to his moves, which is next level stuff. It’s to play off the Steven Gerrard slip abuse most Liverpool supporters have been receiving since Gerrard botched and cost Liverpool the title. Goto coasts through this, perhaps being aware that if he was in the third match in New Japan it would be considered the kind of match he could sleepwalk through. Everything he does gets popped anyway so he doesn’t need to work too hard. He leaves that to Gibson, who’s genuinely the driving force behind this contest. His only major issue is spamming the Codebreaker, which he hits three different times during the match. Gibson legitimately goes to use a car stereo as a weapon but Ospreay stops it. This is Juvi and the tequila bottle all over again (screw you, Russo). Goto comes firing back and takes it with the GTR. Nothing to write home about here for Goto but Gibson looked like a top star with his antics.
Final Rating: **1/2
Hiromu Takahashi vs. Marty Scurll
This is some Andy Q outside-the-box booking. Rev Pro are in a unique position when it comes to booking dream matches and Scurll and Hiromu is a fine mixture of weirdness. Hiromu has wrestled here before, in Portsmouth, and the contrast between then and now is massive. Hiromu is a bit of a weirdo now and licks his title belt before the match, before licking Scurll’s umbrella. This gets him belted in the face with the umbrella! Holy shit! Scurll is excellent at the moment, taking all his trademark spots, built up over many years, and combining them with whatever he’s faced with. When he’s got a talented opponent that makes it even better. Hiromu on the other hand is completely fearless and seemingly impervious to injury. He throws himself out of the ring like his bones are made of metal. Also Hiromu is having the time of his life in NJPW, having great match after great match with a variety of opponents. He has no problem getting fired up to meet Marty’s antics halfway. There’s a great spot where Scurll sees Shaz doing Hiromu cosplay and slaps her hat off. Did he have that planned or was it improvised? It’s a nice touch either way. Scurll eventually catches Hiromu in the Chickenwing. They turn it into an ‘arm drop three times’ thing. I don’t like that spot. If someone is unconscious for two seconds you should probably stop the match ref. Anyway Hiromu survives, hits the Timebomb and Scurll kicks out of that. A second Timebomb gets the job done. This was two worlds and two wacky styles colliding and it worked for the most part. Not a total blowaway match but a really good one.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Undisputed British Cruiserweight Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs. Josh Bodom
Bodom is the interim champ, which means they both have belts and claims on the title. Rev Pro have been building up to this for a while with it being implied that Ospreay is ducking Bodom and Josh himself mentally building up to eventually facing Will by beating other strong contenders. Ospreay comes in hurt with back issues. These are clear as he’s had the suction cup treatment and has expansion tape all over the place. It must be worrying for Will to be this young and already nursing a host of injuries. He is developing his persona so he’s not overly reliant on silly bumps but that doesn’t stop them from happening. Case in point: he takes a back bump across the top rope from standing on the buckle. That is not a sensible bump mate. Bodom, in response, hits a ridiculous flip to the floor and nearly breaks his ribs. Lads, I appreciate the effort but let’s try not to kill each other. With Ospreay selling his back it gives Bodom a defined target for abuse and thankfully stops Will from doing a mass of flips and doing serious damage to his future. The match serves as an example of Ospreay’s ability to sell (or his back is totally destroyed and he’s in absolute agony). Bodom is able to showcase his own ability and how versatile he’s become without stealing Will’s spotlight or turning himself face. Meanwhile Will, unable to do flips, breaks out an assortment of innovation. It might not be what the fans want from Ospreay but it’s what he needs to do if he wants a long career.
For Bodom this is a coming out party. A demonstration of everything he’s learned as a professional wrestler from moves to psychology. It’s his chance to prove he can go toe-to-toe with one of the best wrestlers in the world. Some of the bumps from Will down the stretch are both upsetting and impressive. He flings himself across the ring to make sure Bodom looks credible. As Bodom clubs away on Ospreay’s injured back he must surely be aware he’s in the midst of constructing a classic match. That is until Ospreay stamps on his face. Gibson turns up to allow Will to score the visual submission and protect his heat. It’s telling that Ospreay has to pull flips out of the locker to preserve his belt only for Bodom to cut him off and hit the Blissbuster for the title. The psychology and body part work during this was damn good. The whole thing felt like a coming of age for Bodom, who’s been working his way through the Rev Pro ranks for years. Sure, he’s been here before, at the Cruiserweight title level, but now he’s done it by beating the best. Suddenly Ospreay’s run with this belt makes perfect sense.
Final Rating: ****1/2
James Castle vs. Sha Samuels
The end of the Revolutionists was Sha abandoning his protégé Castle. James comes into this with very impressive hair. Many cans of hairspray died to allow this punk rock pock phenomenon. This is a cool down match after that epic Ospreay-Bodom contest. They are allowed to break all the rules in order to stay over though. This includes various plunder shots, including a saw, and Sha hitting a moonsault to the floor like a loon. If that doesn’t turn Sha face then slapping Chris Roberts moments later certainly does. Sha actually bodyslams Roberts in a throwback to a comedy match a few years back where Chris slammed Sha. Storyline continuity lads! Castle wins by kneeing a chair into Sha’s face. This was brisk but hit every high possible.
Final Rating: ***
Post-match: Sha is annoyed by his loss, chair shots Castle and clips Castle’s punk rock hair off. It’s an outrage! That was one of the finest barnets in pro wrestling!
Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship
Zack Sabre Jr. (c) vs. KUSHIDA
Andy Q has booked himself a technical masterpiece. He’s all fired up about it too! You could argue these are the two best technical wrestlers in the world today. The York Hall crowd are bunch of weirdos. They happily chant “Zacky Three Belts” for the heel Sabre Jr after booing him as a face.
The mat work in this is absolutely outstanding. KUSHIDA had a match against Kyle O’Reilly in Rev Pro that contained fantastic mat work but the quality here is possibly higher. The speed, difficulty level and smoothness are all off the charts. Technical wrestling isn’t just holds and counterholds. It’s all in the way it’s executed. It has to look like a struggle. Sabre is so good at that and KUSHIDA fluidity around him is magical. Sabre heels it up by being slightly dickish, posing and such, when he’s in charge. It’s just enough to turn the crowd against him although generally they watch in silence, contemplating the excellent grappling they’re being served. The match is perhaps on the long side, for modern fans, but it’s technically good enough to have me interested in where the story is going. Sabre does some astonishing work with only one arm, at one point hooking a sleeper with one arm out of use. Both guys are looking for armbars and spend the contest building to the inevitability of a submission.
Sabre in particular ties KUSHIDA into knots. When he tries to hook all his limbs in submission holds, like he did with AJ Styles, it blows a few fans minds. KUSHIDA’s escapes are a highlight of the match as he’s both creative and flashy with the basics. KUSHIDA tries to lift the cocky arms-folded pin but Sabre rolls through it and gets the pin himself in similar fashion. This was exhausting, in a good way, and if you like technical wrestling this is your jam.
Final Rating: ****1/4
The Elite (Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks) vs. Lio Rush, Shane Strickland & Ryan Smile
This is probably not the trio I’d have put against the Elite. Two of them are Americans for starters, meaning you get most of a match that could take place in the States. The only Brit is Ryan Smile, who is fine but if I was picking a trio this is not what it would be. Ricochet was due to be here, which would have been better, but he’s missing and replaced by little Lio. The crowd is very happy to see the Elite. Who knew the Bullet Club was this big of a deal? Omega has turned himself into an absolute megastar.
Shane Strickland does a fine job of not being impressed by any of this. Kenny is in a good mood thanks to the general crowd love and noise. It takes ten minutes for the entrances thanks to the Elite milking it. Hey, they’re the stars here. They sold the tickets. I specifically couldn’t go to this show because it sold out after Omega was announced. It’s weird that the guy to get over from all this is Lio Rush! This is a lot of fun. They goof around and do six missed dropkicks at the same time. The fans get a lot of joy from yelling “superkick” every time one connects and the “four boots” bit.
Lio continues to stand out with his energetic, 100mph offence but when Omega wants to he suddenly becomes the most outstanding wrestler in the match. It’s like he has an internal switch from goofball to god. Ryan Smile struggles at times to be in the right place and to time things correctly. He’s often ahead of where he’s supposed to be. Maybe it’s nerves from being in such a big match and not wanting to be out of position. Aside from that the match is a tonne of fun. It always helps when a crowd is into something and they’re into the Elite big time. The Elite do some real Three Stooges stuff, which appears in all of their matches. Three Superkicks and a double Meltzer Driver finishes. Simmonz, mark, calls it the “best wrestling match ever seen at York Hall”. It was certainly good fun and in Lio Rush a star is born but the FCP Elite-BSS match was better.
Final Rating: ****
Post-match: Kenny name drops AJ Styles, who apparently put over Rev Pro to him. Omega has a talent for holding a crowd in the palm of his hand during his wacky meandering promos. They’re an experience.
Summary: This show was great. If you’ve not seen just go and watch it. Anyone concerned about the impact of WWE on BritWres shouldn’t be. This weekend has been proof positive that the scene is thriving like never before. The sheer numbers for sold out shows (here, 3 FCP shows, OTT, ICW) is staggering. And the quality is phenomenal.