PWA Christmas Slam 2016

The Cody Rhodes Indie Wrestling Fantasy Camp Tour continues with a stop in Edmonton, Alberta, for the Prairie Wrestling Alliance! I have a feeling that this stop is more on the side of “you met the asking price, so sure” variety than many of his previous appearances in prestige indies like Evolve and PWG, but either way, he’s here and he’s got a shiny new Global Force Wrestling belt with him.

And boy, did it effect the house.

PWA’s attendance patterns are fairly predictable. Whenever they bring in an outside name that people in Alberta wouldn’t get to see otherwise, their numbers spike into the 500s. Occasionally, when they used to run a basketball gym, they could clear 600. Without those names, attendance hovers between one and three hundred, depending on if there’s a cool gimmick match or a feud that’s gotten hot. Last month, I estimated the attendance at 150-200 (we can’t all be Joe Lanza as far as attendance math, I pretty much just estimate based on how many seats are empty). This month? It was whatever the capacity of the Northgate Lions Centre is. The announced attendance of their show with Samoa Joe last year was 545, so let’s call this one 550.

PWA Christmas Slam 2016

Northgate Lions Centre

Edmonton, AB

Estimated Attendance: 550

Julian Lord & Jay Taylor vs. Michael Allen Richard Clark & Richie Rage

Jay Taylor is my new favourite guy in PWA. As mentioned last time, he’s whatever the opposite of a butterface is, and has an “I’m too sexy” gimmick. It’s dripping with irony, as he spends much of his time getting wedgies and taunting the audience with aggressively unsexy poses on the ropes. He’s the kind of guy that probably comes off as kind of funny but otherwise okay on video, but is really entertaining live.

As far as I was concerned, everyone else in this match was just there to give Taylor foils for his act. His partner, Julian Lord, did a dialed down version of Taylor’s gimmick. Think the difference between Rick Rude (Taylor) and Rick Martel (Lord) as far as prettyboy characters go and you’re in the ballpark. Richie Rage was waaaaaay more impressive than his showing the previous month. Michael Allen Richard Clark (it spells MARC. Get it? Ah? Ah? Yeah, it’s not funny) seems like a decent enough worker who absolutely should have been a heel. Their team name is Rage Appeal, playing on MARC’s nickname, “Flex Appeal.” It is a very indie wrestling portmanteau.

Speaking of heels, I had NO IDEA which team were supposed to be the babyfaces in this match. Rage has been a babyface for a while, so I guess it must have been his team, but MARC’s mannerisms were almost entirely heelish. It didn’t help that an early spot in the match featured Rage and MARC pantomiming performing an Eiffel Tower on Lord for about 10 seconds – guys, simulated rape is not a babyface spot, nor is it anything but really gross on a few levels.

Once things got going, this was a fun opening tag that mostly focused on Taylor’s mission to find new and interesting ways to shake his ass at people, and culminated with some cool spots. Rage held up Lord in a stalling suplex that lasted to a count of 15, and shortly thereafter pressed Lord over his head and threw him into a cutter from MARC.

Winners: Rage Appeal via military press/cutter combo. **3/4

Sheik Akbar Shabazz vs. “The Omen” Gabriel

Gabriel Lestat seems to have taken a cue from WWE and decided to go with a Madonna-esque single name. He’s still a vampire. He still walks to the ring with an IV and some blood bags, which is entirely too absurd for the vibe he’s going for. Shabazz is still a guy we’re supposed to hate because he’s foreign, although his hometown was amended from the horrifically racist “Taliban, Ramadan” to the comparatively less racist, but still pretty racist, “Taliban, Lebanon.”* At least Lebanon is a place.

* It is entirely possible Shabazz’ hometown didn’t change and I just heard it wrong last time.

Both of these guys are experienced, big, and work hard. They gelled well, and punctuated each sequence with a power move that gave the match a clear rhythm. The story was Gabriel’s resilience being the difference, as he always managed to recover just a little bit faster than Shabazz. This is the kind of match that’s hard to write about without falling into play-by-play, because it was unspectacular but consistently enjoyable throughout.

I CAN comment on the finish, though, because it was really weird. Looking for a shortcut around Gabriel’s resilience, Shabazz dug some brass knuckles out of his gear. He didn’t hide this well, however, and the referee quickly confiscated the knucks. Then, in a bizarre turn, the referee declined to simply toss the knucks to a ringside attendant – he decided he should personally deliver them to the timekeeper’s table for… reasons? While he was doing that, Shabazz tapped out to a torture rack (which included him yelling “tap out, tap out!” loudly, which made me laugh pretty hard). Gabriel thought he won, but the referee didn’t see the tap, and Shabazz caught him posing on the ropes and hit a Razor’s Edge for a very believable near fall. Shabazz went for something out of a fireman carry, which he had attempted several times, but was thwarted when Gabriel reversed it into a sunset flip for the 3 count.

The entire finishing sequence would have been fine if they had dispensed with the false finish, especially since Shabazz lost anyway. Why have the heel get out of losing a clean fall only to lose a clean fall almost immediately afterward? They could have done that entire finishing sequence without the false finish.

Winner: “The Omen” Gabriel via shenanigans into a sunset flip. ***1/4

PWA Commonwealth Championship Match – Lien Mendel vs. Fabien Ribiero (c)

Lien Mendel is yet another Australian guy trained by Lance Storm. Is Lance Storm ONLY training Australians now? Lien Mendel is all limbs, but his gear looked good and he worked well as a heel. He was a bit over-reliant on the established “Aussie Aussie Aussie” “sucks sucks sucks” call and response (established by another Storm-trained Aussie, Dylan Knight, over the course of nearly a decade) to get reactions, but I think he could develop into a pretty valuable member of the roster.

Fabien Ribiero is very similar to Jay Taylor, in terms of his penchant for using his charisma as the building block for his matches. He manages to make his opponents the butt of jokes without making them look like an idiot, and his dance-walk never ceases to entertain me.

Ribiero’s recent matches have used a structure in which he toys with his opponent a little too much, leaving himself open a counter-attack before trading bombs in the finishing stretch. Think of a 13 minute G1 match structure, but replace all of the repetitive guard rail spots with goofiness and crowd work. This one featured Ribiero going for his Caribbean People’s Elbow (named by me, because I don’t know what any of these guys call their moves), only for Mendel to hear the music start (see my previous review for an explanation of why that’s a thing and bail to the floor. The bomb sequence ended with Ribiero’s standard finishing combination of a Rock Bottom and the Caribbean People’s Elbow.

Winner and STILL Champion: Fabien Ribiero via Caribbean People’s Elbow. ***1/2

Millenial Rebels (Colten Kelly, Reid Matthews & Fury) vs. Frenetico, Aidan Adams & Gisele Shaw

This is a direct follow-up to the Fright Night tag team match between the Rebs, Adams, and Shaw as well as the singles match between Fury and Frenetico. Speaking of which, what happened to Frenetico’s title shot? He won one for beating Fury. Did that happen in Calgary?

Actually, I’m going to take a minute to bitch about that. PWA seems to believe that most of their audience is willing to drive the 3 hours between Edmonton and Calgary to see all of their shows, so they run one single storyline continuity through all of their shows. In practical terms, this means that the majority of the audience is only seeing 50% of the story developments AT MOST. Booking angles that will culminate on a show in a different city only works if your content distribution allows your fans to follow along even if they aren’t live in the arena. PWA has pretty much no content distribution aside from a DVD table at shows, so there are a whole lot of people wondering “did they pay that off already? What happened to that? Oh, that’s still a thing?”

I loved what I saw of the Rebs on the last show, but this match didn’t click at all. Their offence felt sloppy, and everyone meandered through a paint-by-numbers tag. Frenetico took the heat, and after eating shit on a suicide dive (he somehow got caught on the ring TWICE on the way down), looked pretty sluggish. Gisele Shaw looked great when she got the hot tag, busting out a clutch kick and a flip-dive off the top rope to the floor.

As an aside, if the crowd gets quiet, I frequently yell “DO A FLIP!” because it amuses me. In this case, it happened to coincide with Gisele standing on the top rope, so I choose to believe that I made a vital contribution to that spot.

Aidan Adams was tagged in at some point, and accidentally knocked Gisele off the apron. The referee went to check on Gisele as Kelly rolled up Adams. This was awful, as I’m pretty sure the referee was legitimately distracted by Gisele falling to the floor and forgot that she was supposed to be counting a pin (by the way, this is the female ref that blew a bunch of spots on Fright Night). Why? Because Adams was pinned for about a 9 count, then got up and reacted like he was shocked that he lost. What, did he manage to get in a nap and forget what he was doing? Oh, and he’d also taken virtually no damage throughout the match, so taking this pin made him look like a chump.

Winners: Millenial Rebels via narcolepsy, I guess. **

PWA Mayhem Championship Seasons Beatings Match – Kenny Stryker (c) vs. “Hollywood” Dusty Adonis

Kenny Stryker put out an open challenge to defend the Mayhem title, claiming that it was his gift to the fans. That capped a cringey promo about loving Christmas. How cringey? He managed to get Christmas booed.

The challenge was accepted by “Hollywood” Dusty Adonis, a PWA regular from years past whose most memorable run to me was an impersonator gimmick, where he’d come out as a different WWE wrestler each show.

This match was pretty much entirely Christmas-themed comedy. Both guys would open Christmas presents in search of weapons, but they mostly found things you’re more likely to find in someone’s box of Christmas decorations. Mistletoe was introduced early, leading to Stryker walking around ringside trying to get people in the first row to kiss him. It actually worked, which got a pop. He tried to kiss a woman in the row in front of me, but Dusty mugged him, took the mistletoe, and kissed her. Obvious plant is obvious. Dusty found a fruitcake and smashed it into Stryker’s chest with an Earthcake. No, that wasn’t a typo. Dusty ended up wearing a light-up Rudolph nose for several minutes. Stryker found a Santa hat, which led to a “sitting on Santa’s knee” spot with an open folding chair.

The finish saw Dusty find a bald cap, wrestling headgear, and a fake gold medal – in case you were wondering, those are the ingredients needed to call on the power of Kurt Angle. Dusty lowered the straps on his singlet, then hit a bunch of Kurt Angle moves culminating in the Olympic Slam for a near fall. Dusty Angle then pulled his straps back up so he could lower them again and apply the ankle lock, but Stryker kicked him into a chair wedged in the corner and rolled him up.

Winner and STILL Champion: Stryker via roll-up. **1/2

Intermission time! The downside of having 500 plus people at a PWA show is that the concession and bathroom lines got pretty absurd.

PWA Canadian Tag Team Championship Match – Moore Prime (Shawn Moore & Alexander Prime) vs. Team Hall of Fame (Duke Durango and Chris Steele) (c)

This is a direct rematch from last show, which had a garbage finish involving Durango hitting Moore with a tag title belt in plain view of the referee, who nearly gave herself whiplash trying to go back in time to find a reason not to see it.

This match was far better than the Fright Night encounter, with far less stalling and more energy in the work. Moore Prime are pretty ideal guys to go on after intermission, because they’re fantastically charismatic. I get hyped up immediately when these guys come out.

This match was kind of generically good, so I’m going to take this space to talk about a bizarre match structure thing I noticed in the majority of PWA tags – they’re almost entirely heat segment. There isn’t any real back and forth to start with, there’s an opening sequence that leads directly to the heat. Once the hot tag happens, they go to the finish quickly, leaving the hot-tag-recipient to work a very small percentage of the match. It’s a Southern tag without the parts that make you invest in the babyfaces by making them look good.

In a nice touch, the heat segment and the hot tag were triggered by the same move – Durango low-bridging Prime, then Prime returning the favour. In the scramble that led to the finish, Moore did a flipping clothesline, Steele and Durango hit a stalling suplex/cross-body combo, and Moore did the Eddie Guerrero “he did it” spot with the tag title belt. That was actually really dumb, because if it had worked, the challengers wouldn’t have gotten the belts. They DID get the belts, though, after hitting Total Elimination on Durango. They got a massive pop for their efforts.

Winners and NEW Champions: Moore Prime via Total Elimination. ***

PWA Championship Match – Marky (c) vs. Brett Morgan

Frenetico won a Beat the Clock challenge at Fright Night to get a title shot. Did that happen? No idea. Brett Morgan is probably an upgrade as far as opponents for Marky, though. He’s a decent-sized dude with a good physique and good arrogant heel mannerisms. Marky has a goofy name, but is the second best worker in the company behind Michael Richard Blais.

This was good, but Morgan needs to either practice his striking or stop doing it. I could have parked my car in the space between Morgan’s knee and Marky’s head during one exchange. Morgan’s power offence was much better, and the match improved when he started sticking to that.

The finish to this match was very reminiscent of the Shabazz/Gabriel finish. Morgan ducked a flying forearm from Marky, which caught the ref. Morgan followed up with a fireman’s carry into a spinebuster thing, which I guess is his finish. The referee hauled himself over to make a count, then… was too hurt, despite being able to move halfway across the ring? Morgan then grabbed the title belt and wound up to hit Marky, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. He didn’t want to win that way. Morgan did a very good job selling his internal struggle with facial expressions, even if a lot of the crowd were confused as to why he was suddenly having a change of heart. Some stuff happened, Marky tried for his top rope leg drop, missed, then took another fireman’s carry spinebuster and that was the end of that. Brett Morgan wins with the same sequence that the ref couldn’t count the pin on earlier.

This match was mostly good, but Morgan’s… face turn?… seemed to come out of nowhere. He and Marky shook hands, then Morgan celebrated with the belt.

Winner and NEW Champion: Brett Morgan via fireman’s carry spinebuster. ***

Global Force Wrestling Nex-Gen Championship Match – Cody Rhodes (c) vs. Michael Richard Blais

Let’s start with the GFW Nex-Gen title. I get that GFW is a better known promotion, despite being a weird quasi-existing thing that is primarily a vehicle for some sort of gold scam. I get it. But the positioning here is saying “GFW’s title is more important than ours.” That’s not great. Obviously you want the big name outsider who drew the house to be in the main event, but this match sees a guy who just lost clean to the PWA Champion challenging for a title that’s being positioned as more important. There’s some problems here with both booking logic and the image of the promotion.

Okay, let’s allow fun into our lives now. The crowd came unglued when Cody Rhodes came out, and he pretty much had full control over their reactions at all times. The thing I found fascinating about this is that, for as much crap Rhodes takes for being a pure WWE guy, there is a very obvious difference in quality between a guy who’s been in WWE and the average indie roster. I think we’ve become spoiled by the accessibility of high-end indie wrestling, because we can choose to only watch the highest quality stuff from around the world. That’s the environment in which a WWE guy can come off as lesser-than – when the best wrestlers in the world have freedom to perform their art without restraint. I’ve liked the indie stuff I’ve seen from Rhodes, but that was against the aforementioned best indie guys in the world, where he was the lesser light in the match, looking to prove that he can keep up. Here, in the rec centre of a seniors complex in Canada, on a card with a lot of guys none of you will ever see, the pure WWE guy was temporarily Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1998.

The match started with the Stardust cartwheel and pose, followed by “there, but that’s the ONLY one.” The crowd exploded. Goldust’s drop-down throat-thrust. Minds are blown. An eventual step-up plancha to the floor? I’m surprised nobody’s head exploded. Like, physically blew up and splattered all over the walls. Rhodes could have taken a nap and the audience would have been rabid for it.

The level of crispness displayed by Cody Rhodes in comparison to the rest of the roster was almost shocking. It’s very jarring seeing Michael Richard Blais, easily the best guy on the PWA roster, be the second smoothest worker in a match. The match itself was quite good. Rhodes went for a second plancha, then ate a counter kick, which let Blais show off his offence, which is essentially one of those “100 Greatest Moves of X” comp videos. Highlights in this instance were Adam Cole’s Last Shot, a brainbuster, and a 450 splash.

Things got silly with the referees again, as Blais brought a chair into the ring in full view of the referee. Frustrated that he couldn’t put Rhodes away, he blasted him with the chair a couple of times. The referee cringed and walked around the ring, pretending to see nothing. I should bring up that the referee is Blais’ real-life girlfriend (wife, maybe?). I don’t think that’s ever been acknowledged in kayfabe (I asked around). Despite the chair shots, Rhodes managed to come back and hit Cross Rhodes. The referee counted two… then flipped off Rhodes, refusing to count her partner down. Some chaos ensued as the head referee was sent out to replace and eject the offending official. In the chaos, Blais accidentally kicked Rhodes low, causing him to scream at his girlfriend to leave so he could get the referee’s attention. Rhodes kicked out of a close near-fall, and the following exchange ended with a Cross Rhodes and three count.

Winner: Cody Rhodes via Cross Rhodes. ****

I liked the match a lot, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about anything as the crowd sounded when the referee’s hand hit the mat for the third time. Thunderous applause, “thank you Cody” chants, screaming. Being in the midst of five hundred and some people screaming their heads off is such a great feeling. Pro wrestling is really fun, guys.

Cody Rhodes cut a promo saying that he loves wrestling and wants to come back to PWA, but everything was downhill after the opening line of “Did those two know each other?” He then circled the ring side area shaking hands and hugging people as the ring announcer talked and nobody listened.

Spot of the Night: This show was much lighter on bonkers spots than Fright Night. Gisele Shaw’s flip dive onto the Millenial Rebels was pretty cool, though. “DO A FLIP!”

Match of the Night: Cody Rhodes vs. Michael Richard Blais. It wasn’t really close.

MVP: Cody Rhodes. He drew the crowd, they LOVED him, and he put in a good performance between the ropes.