Arnold Furious: March 12, 2017. We’re in Oberhausen at the Turbinenhalle for the final night of this years 16 Carat Gold tournament. The experience live is something I’ll never forget and I pleaded with anyone who’d listen that I wanted to come back to Germany as soon as possible. Commentary comes from Alan Counihan, who gets to do an on-screen introduction, and Rico Bushido.
wXw 16 Carat Gold 2017 Semi Final
Ilja Dragunov vs. Bad Bones
Dragunov has the crowd’s support. There’s something about the wild-eyed Soviet that makes it hard not to love him. These two had a fantastic match with unbreakable tables in a no DQ match. Here they go to war again, with the winner going on to the tournament final. There are few tactical decisions and they go head to head for most of the match. Where beforehand Bones had the advantage Ilja’s face turn has gained him the support of the crowd and that helps to drive him. They certainly don’t hold back, doing a crazy suicide suplex relatively early in the contest. Ilja has moments here where he looks outstanding and if he had that consistency, throughout his entire moveset, he would be a world-beater. Every now and again he does an obvious leg slap that just unravels everything or can’t quite land a lariat with the same impact as his best work. With a little more consistency in his work he’d be the King of European wrestling. His character is perfect. His presence is incredible. Most of his work is great. They really nail down establishing his finish here by having Torpedo Moscow come out of nowhere, as it has done all weekend. Bones had a strong tournament but Ilja is far more driven and determined.
Final Rating: ***1/2
wXw 16 Carat Gold 2017 Semi Final
WALTER vs. Matt Riddle
This was the semi final I was hoping for. Hopefully it’s not the only time WALTER and Riddle get to clash in the squared circle. It’s not their first match though, not even their first match in wXw, with Riddle having submitted WALTER on a wXw tour in Dusseldorf nine days before this. They do a leg match here with WALTER destroying Riddle’s exposed shin. The sheer number of matches Riddle has had all week is finally catching up to him. Riddle’s foot had tape on it during AMBITION and WALTER must have noticed that. Riddle getting all fired up shows what a big time star he is but WALTER looks even bigger for staying focused and dismantling someone with Riddle’s already massive reputation. Riddle is forced into unfamiliar territory, at one point busting out a Swanton bomb. Seeing Riddle’s development as a wrestler is a joy as he tries different things and advances his style into a hybrid of MMA and professional wrestling. He goes from that Swanton to getting a triangle and trying to choke out the big man. WALTER powerbombs him to break it though and advances to the final. The storytelling here was top notch, from the leg injury to Riddle going outside his comfort zone to WALTER’s devastating power. The final will be Dragunov vs. WALTER.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Bobby Gunns vs. Koji Kanemoto
They spent all weekend building up to this match. It’s the main purpose of the veteran Kanemoto’s visit; get over the younger generation of wXw talent. It worked with his victory over Francis Kaspin yesterday. Bobby has certain strengths, his mat game is top notch, but his weaknesses are easy to spot. They seem magnified opposite a veteran like Kanemoto. There are timing and selling issues galore. Kanemoto covers for a lot of it but before anything can go horribly wrong Gunns gets a rollup pin.
Final Rating: **
wXw Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match
Paul London & Da Mack vs. Francis Kaspin & Chris Colen
This is a way to get a bunch of guys onto the show that would otherwise not be wrestling. I’m not overly keen on gauntlet matches at the best of times. The recent Smackdown one was trash. At least this isn’t just a series of short squashes with the match going twenty-three minutes in total. Paul London does good work again here, adding to his excellent weekend repertoire. London launches Kaspin into Mack Magic and hits the SSP for the pin.
Paul London & Da Mack vs. The Avalanche & Julian Nero
This is a bit weird as Dreissker and Nero were Cerberus but that group is now dead. It seems they’re still chums though, just missing the manager. They do immediately feel less important, which is strange. The reaction to Dreissker crushing Polak was huge. It’s perhaps an error in judgement to throw the Avalanche out here in a team after such a momentous occasion. At least Dreissker gets the pin, hitting the Spiralbomb on London. Paul had a cracking weekend and went out of his way to put on a good show.
A4 (c) vs. The Avalanche & Julian Nero
Marius Al-Ani comes out here with his ear taped, having suffered an injury during AMBITION, and he’s swiftly eliminated from the match by Dreissker, carted to the back after the referee throws up the X. Andy eats heat for the entire match before winning with a superkick out of nowhere on Nero.
A4 (c) vs. Ringkampf
Andy is exhausted, on his own and facing two of the elite grapplers in wXw. Axel was the champion until yesterday. Thatcher and Axel might seem like an odd couple but Dieter is a huge Thatcher fan. During a press conference at Carat weekend he called Tim “the best human being he’d ever met”. The Ringkampf lads stick together. Andy takes heat, again, until Marius, with head taped up, runs back in to get the hot tag. As I understand he was legitimately injured (and went to hospital) hence his reduced schedule in this. Andy gets a fluke roll up on Thatcher for A4 to retain. This whole thing rumbled on forever although it was much better towards the conclusion. You could have dumped the former Cerberus team to speed things along.
Final Rating: **
Post-match: the fight continues with multiple guys running in, including the difference making WALTER. It’s all a bit weird until the true purpose of the segment is revealed; the surprise return from ‘retirement’ of Kim Ray. His last match was in September but he can now be added to the list of wrestling retirements that simply didn’t stick. This whole thing went very, very long but at least there was a meaty pay-off. They made Kim’s return seem important and added another player into the babyface roster’s war with Ringkampf. The crowd are nice to him too chanting “nobody but Kim”, when they used to chant “anyone but Kim”.
wXw Shotgun Championship
David Starr (c) vs. Emil Sitoci vs. Jurn Simmons vs. Cody Rhodes
Starr initially errs by calling the Shotgun title the “most important in wXw”. Naturally this brings his tag team partner Jurn out here to challenge for another belt. Followed by Cody and Emil. Starr and Jurn’s banter is tremendous. Starr has turned into a marketable promo and his in-ring is peaking too. Sitoci hasn’t wrestled all weekend so he’s fit and raring to grab some gold. The others have been in big matches and working hard. The match ticks along nicely with all the guys having a fun time. Starr stands out with Jurn happy to play second fiddle to his buddy. Cody hits a lot of throwbacks like the Figure Four and the Dusty flip, flop and fly. The match goes off the rails slightly towards the end with a mistimed referee bump and Sitoci using the belt as a foreign weapon. Snapmare Driver puts Starr away and Sitoci takes the gold. Starr is inconsolable afterwards but gets a huge amount of love from Oberhausen. During his time in wXw he’s become a megastar and he deserves the applause.
Final Rating: ***1/4
No Ropes Match
Alpha Kevin vs. Marius Van Beethoven
These two used to be best friends but Marius turned on Kevin and proceeded to team with Alpha Female to wreck Kevin’s life. The feud has rumbled on for months with the heels ruining the faces wedding and Mel Gray taking hellacious beatings in recent weeks. The cage match against Alpha Female was phenomenal. Alpha Female isn’t here so Marius has to go it alone. He has a sensational entrance, where Marius Money rains from the ceiling. I managed to pick one up, they’re a very cool prop. It’s a bit strange that the ropes are entirely missing and that Kevin has a clear advantage, thanks to Mella being involved. Although Marius punches her out of the match in the early going. I was watching this up the top of the building and I was behind Jurn Simmons and some of the other lads and the way they marked out for some of the more dangerous spots was fantastic. In particular Kevin hitting a dive into nothing but chairs. What you get out of the match depends on how much you’ve followed the storyline. While they work hard you’ll get more out of it if you’ve seen what a complete toerag Marius has been over the past six months. This includes Mella bringing Kevin the famous crutch that ruined the friendship to begin with. Kevin could win with the Package Piledriver but decides to hit another one through a table for full vengeance. This was a feud blow-off of epic proportions. Neither Kevin or Marius are that good as wrestlers but they did great storytelling.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Tangent: Rico yelling “call 911” after the table spot is truly a bizarre moment. In Germany the emergency phone number is 112. I guess it was tailored to a wider English-speaking audience.
Donovan Dijak & JT Dunn vs. ACH & Mike Bailey
The heels, Dijak & Dunn, have a heel manager, which is Cody Rhodes working a throwback 80s heel manager gimmick. Having grown up watching all that classic wrestling he slots into the role with consummate ease. This match is the one that routinely steals the show on the last night of Carat. The pre-main event ‘flippy tag’. ACH was one of the stand-outs for this weekend, being incredibly entertaining constantly. Whether it was in the ring, at the merch table, during interviews or at the after party. ACH wants cash to dance but Cody rolls in to retrieve it. The great part is the crowd throw the Marius Money in. It’s a perfectly positioned gimmick.
Alan makes jokes about Dijak & Dunn doing Diesel & HBK. “They Kliq together” he banters while Rico, whose voice is finally giving up, mentally shakes his head. The match starts out with comedy and Cody stealing the show with his ridiculous 80s homage (one I’d love to see more of). As the match progresses it becomes crazier and crazier. The way it escalates is beautiful. If you love the nutty spotfest tags you’ll dig it. It doesn’t ever go completely nuts, like some previous entries in this spot, but instead it’s smartly structured so it makes better sense. While everyone is good here Bailey manages to be the stand-out. His kicks make sense and his timing is immaculate. Some people don’t seem to like him but the timing on his Silver King dive here is just perfect. ACH follows with a springboard cutter and Bailey finishes with the SSP knee drop. Then there’s dancing and much rejoicing. ACH does the spinneroonie and Bailey the Worm. It encapsulates what a fun match it was.
Final Rating: ****1/4
wXw 16 Carat Gold 2017 Final
Ilja Dragunov vs. WALTER
WALTER won 16 Carat back in 2010. Ilja is in his first final and we had a chat with WALTER about this. He said it’s tough to know when to pull the trigger on a push. If you go too early the fans end up resenting the wrestler. If you go too late you miss the window and nobody cares. People certainly care here as these two go head to head from the start. WALTER brings out all the moves that killed people over the weekend, whether it’s the Gojira Clutch and all the heavy suplexes and chops. He looks to wear Ilja down. Dragunov refuses to let WALTER dominate him and they throw so many chops. Dragunov’s chest starts to fall apart, having taken abuse before this match, and the damage is quite horrific. It adds to the atmosphere. As does the crowd chant of “unbesiegbar” that rings out around the Turbinenhalle. It means “invincible” and that’s Ilja. His chest may have pieces of skin flying off it, along with blood, as WALTER lands his massive chops but Dragunov refuses to give up.
Each time WALTER lands a massive chop it ruins Ilja’s chest even more and they get harder and harder and louder and louder. All weekend WALTER has been beating guys with the Gojira Clutch and he gets it again here but Ilja, unlike everyone else, finds a way to survive.
“When will the hurting stop” screams Rico, with his broken voice, horrified at the state of Dragunov as they enter into another chop duel. Ilja refuses to back down despite him clearly being badly injured and WALTER is the hardest chopper in the world. Ilja, at one point, peels skin off his chest to get himself more fired up. WALTER tries everything he possibly can to finish Dragunov but it just serves to fuel Ilja’s ambitions. WALTER kicks out of Torpedo Moscow and busts out everything he can think of to get the win. As the crowd chant “unbesiegbar” it sums everything up. WALTER cannot beat Ilja Dragunov tonight. As WALTER staggers around contemplating his next move Ilja flattens him with Torpedo Moscow. Ilja Dragunov is the 16 Carat Gold champion!
The rating on this is incredibly tough. Live I said it was five stars. The emotion was raw, like Dragunov’s chest, and when he said, post match, that he was going home to his wife and newborn son I got really choked up. The weekend was slowly loosening its hold upon me. All that energy I’d gained was seeping away and as I leant on the balcony in the Turbinenhalle and looked out across the people filtering out of the building was a religious experience. You can’t put a value on that. When people asked me, on returning, whether it was worth going to 16 Carat I couldn’t find the words to match the experience. There I was, leaning on the balcony, choked up, contemplating that wrestling is the greatest thing in the world and I was literally surrounded by people thinking the same exact thing. My wrestling family, my brothers and sisters of the grappling arts, had put on an incredible weekend of shows. I knew before gold confetti rained down on Ilja Dragunov that I’d be back. That’s the wrestling way. When wrestling is done properly, with responsibility, with love, there’s nothing better than it. I could feel this match. I could almost reach out and touch it. When it was over the atmosphere still hung, thick, on the air. We said our goodbyes to the wXw staff and headed out into the cold night air in Oberhausen. I turned to VOW’s Oli Court and said “I f*ck*ng love wrestling”. I love what it does to me. Danke Deutschland, ich komme wieder.
Final Rating: *****
Summary: There are very few professional wrestling experiences akin to 16 Carat. There are even fewer in European wrestling. Progress is coming close with Super Strongstyle 16. Carat is an amazing experience. I would, without hesitation recommend it to any and all wrestling fans. The atmosphere is unreal. It’s probably the greatest wrestling experience of my life and that’s including an awful lot of professional wrestling events. wXw’s production values have come on leaps and bounds and it feels like a big deal. How some nights don’t sell out is beyond me, when just over the channel SSS16 is selling out, all three nights, in a matter of minutes. Do yourself a favour next year and take the trip. You won’t regret it.