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“Britwres is Dead”
It was a joke that struck a nerve when first uttered by Post Wrestling’s Richard Benson, quickly taking a life of its own as an internet meme as a British scene struggled to adjust to life under the looming shadow of not just NXT Airstrip One but also other overseas promotion’s thirst for British talent. It wasn’t just WWE that wanted to sign away British pro-wrestlers but Ring of Honor, All Elite Wrestling, New Japan, Dragon Gate, Stardom, Sendai Girls, Big Japan, NOAH, All Japan, and DDT.
It was dark humour that to the ears of many pro-wrestlers felt like an insult. After all, wasn’t British wrestling still presenting better shows and providing work to more performers than it had been before the boom began? Weren’t most promotions still comfortably ahead of what they were drawing back in 2016? Not for nothing did pro-wrestler after pro-wrestler bite back against what had begun as an accidentally problematic joke.
But the reality is that what we all hoped Britwres would become after a blockbuster 2017 did die. It was never about whether British performers and promoters could put on good shows, after all they had managed to do that in the dark days of the mid-nineties. What died was the dream that Britain could cease to be a backwater and take its place alongside America, Japan and Mexico as an internationally renowned hotbed for pro-wrestling. Gone would be the cloying cultural cringe towards WWE amongst local casual fans, and towards Japan by their hardcore counterparts, to be replaced by overseas fans and critics looking to our shores for top-quality and consequential matches.
There are many things that killed that dream, but die it undoubtedly did. Before anyone could notice, it went from Irish and Continental Europeans travelling to England for what were the biggest shows nearby, to British fans making the opposite treks as OTT and WXW grew in acclaim. And their shows were better for good reason, with their talent pools being less depleted and their booking less shopworn. Even when Britwres tried to be big, it would only highlight how small it had become. Whether it be fans and performers living vicariously through foreign produced shows or promoters repeatedly having to borrow talent from their overseas allies to draw a big house.
No one was more battered by this dynamic than Revolution Pro-Wrestling. The last major promotion in Britain and Europe that wasn’t on some level co-opted by WWE, it had seen its talent roster repeatedly raided. The promotion responded by leaning into their relationship with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, to the extent that fans in its premiere venue of York Hall had not seen a British Heavyweight Title defence since November 2018. And you had to go back to 2016 for the last time to title changed hands in York Hall. Indeed, out of the last seven title changes, all but two occurred on New Japan branded or co-branded shows. Such was their dependence that they couldn’t capitalise on their unique ability to book PAC on a regular basis throughout 2019, with dream matches against Zack Sabre Jr and Will Ospreay tarnished by Japanese promotional politics. Likewise their women’s champion Zoe Lucas was frequently absent for prolonged stretches due to commitments with Stardom.
By the end of 2019, RevPro felt a broken-down, exhausted company. In front of a half-empty York Hall they put on a listless show that featured meaningless match after meaningless match until finally PAC put over Michael Oku in a pale imitation of their excellent match at the London Cockpit (which I still argue is superior to PAC’s match against Cara Noir). The rumblings that with NXT Airstrip One ramping up operations there was no longer any room in Britain for “pro-wrestling at its best” grew louder.
But as one should have expected from somebody who responded to being locked out of social media accounts he had set-up by the jealous owner of IPW by publicly taking his loop of shows independent, Andy Quildan wasn’t one to lie down easily. After all, if he wanted WWE to own all of British independent pro-wrestling he could have signed the same contracts that the “punks” in Camden did.
And so he staged a show of force the likes of which Britwres hasn’t seen since the real boom years of 2015, 2016 and 2017. Whereas recently even the biggest RevPro show felt New Japan-lite, here he rediscovered his previous knack of using big name American imports to add a unique spice the mixture. And having been on the receiving end of so much bad luck in 2019, here he caught a lucky break, with an injury to Sha Samuels forcing him to book LA Park vs Eddie Kingston. It was a match that could have headlined any indie in North America, yet here it went on before intermission. They brawled all over ringside, they used chairs, belts and tables, the referee took more bumps than a cocaine addict but above all, the two in-ring competitors had outrageous chemistry, with Kingston proving that he had just as much charisma as the former Chairman of WCW.
What was striking is that they managed to weave actual RevPro storylines into the special attraction match, with a low-blow from Kurtis Chapman on his rival Eddie Kingston setting up LA Park’s match winning spear. Then the post-match increased the likelihood that Dan Magee will ultimately turn on “Mad” Kurt when he took a chair shot intended for his tag team partner. This former plot point was followed up in the next match, with Kingston chasing Chapman out of a Scramble match he seemed on the brink of winning. It’s going to be something “special” when those two finally meet. The scramble also confirmed that after being away from Britain for much of 2019, Mark Haskins is going to be a regular with RevPro, with him repaying Lord Gideon Grey for the assist in winning the Scramble, by helping Grey’s charges Great O-Kharn and Rampage Brown retain the British Tag Team Titles. That could easily be a setup to Haskins facing David Starr, another superior and fresh match-up.
If La Park was a special attraction, elsewhere you saw RevPro trying to build for the future. Britwres didn’t have much to shout home about last year, but Fight Club: PRO’s rehabilitation of Dan Moloney was one of them, with his home promotion giving the Birmingham powerhouse the space and the opportunities to rebuild his career after a disastrous stint with WWE. Despite impressing at PROGRESS’s Natural Progression Series 6, it has been RevPro who have taken a chance on him, prominently featuring him on their monthly shows at the London Cockpit and even picking him to be the one to face Rhino last month in Stevenage. In his first one-on-one match at York Hall, he put in one of the best performances of his career, showing great fire and physicality en route to defeating Jeff Cobb with his Drilla Killa piledriver. This was a great heavyweight scrap, with some electric sequences, particularly towards the closing stretch as Moloney took all the shots Cobb could throw at him, before twice countering attempts at the Tour of the Islands. A Brit getting the victory over such a high-profile import was an important statement of intent, showing that RevPro is once again in the business of building superstars rather than feeding local performers to pre-existing ones.
To be fair that this welcome shift was first demonstrated by Gisele Shaw’s shocking victory of Tessa Blanchard in November, and here she again secured a submission victory, this time defeating Zoe Lucas to win the British Women’s Title. The longstanding criticism at RevPro for not investing in their women’s division have hopefully finally been answered, with this being Shaw’s third victory in consecutive York Hall shows. However whilst the promotion did a great job building her up as a challenger, they will need to think fast about who will challenge the champion when they return to York Hall in May, if they’re going to continue to build on this momentum. It might be time for Quildan to call in a favour from his former trainee, Jamie Hayter.
There is no such confusion when it comes to the Cruiserweights. Michael Oku has been gunning for El Phantasmo ever since the Canadian return from the Best of Super Juniors with a new attitude. Given everything the crowd had seen before this match, and with the main event coming straight after, the atmosphere spoke volumes about how well this rivalry had been built up. Nearly a year after becoming a Bullet Club member, El Phantasmo has his heel mannerisms down to the ninth degree, with the crowd-pleasing highflying of his babyface run kept to the bare minimum. Instead he was looking at every opportunity to cheat-shot and bully his smaller and less experienced opponent. Whilst there would be some excellent near falls throughout the match, including desperation grab of the bottom rope by Oku after falling victim to a Super Styles Clash, the fans wanted the champion to submit to the challenger’s half-crab. And they got their wish, but only after a prolonged sequence where they teased the screw-job, as a call back to cruiserweight title matches over the past two years. Oku will surely unify his title with Ricky Knight Junior’s Speed King Title (a holdover from the Southside Wrestling promotion that RevPro bought last year) at the next major show but one hopes that New Japan don’t memory-hole his victory over Phantasmo. At the very least getting the opportunity to be a guest-star in the Best of Super Juniors tournament would help him develop as a performer and raise his international profile.
There’s no danger of New Japan ignoring the result of the main event. As I wrote in the Voices of Wrestling New Japan Year in Review E-book, the RevPro and New Japan relationship was a decidedly mixed blessing last year, with Sabre’s rivalries with Ishii, Tanahasi and Sanada making the title feel like just another New Japan mid-card title. Well New Japan certainly made amends this year, with the build to Zack Sabre vs Will Ospreay making British pro-wrestling seem more important than it has felt in years, with the storyline of Ospreay’s seven year quest to become British Heavyweight Champion placing the emphasis firmly on RevPro. This wasn’t just Ospreay and Sabre’s previous battles for the title, but what coming from Britain meant to the challenger, and what both men and the title mean to British pro-wrestling. New Japan going to such lengths to hype a match in London only throws into starker contrast NXT Air Strip One removing wrestlers from OTT’s Kings, Monsters and Bastards card so that they can wrestle elsewhere in Oceania. Not for nothing is that OTT show attracting the least buzz online of any in recent memory, whilst once against major American outlets were looking forward to watching a RevPro show.
Over nearly 30 minutes Sabre and Ospreay threw everything at each other in a match that may well have been better than the two they’ve had recently in New Japan. Ospreay matches often feel like you’re watching something out of The Matrix given how quickly he can move, but when he’s up against someone who knows him as well as Sabre the results are even more spectacular. This truly was catch-as-catch-can, with a heavy emphasis on reversals and counters, without ever feeling overly choreographed. The end would come when Ospreay would counter a triangle choke from Sabre by lifting the champion up to the top-rope before hitting a sit-down super powerbomb, setting him up for his Hidden Blade/Stormbeaker finishing sequence. It was an apt end to what may well have been the best pro-wrestling show in York Hall history.
Believe it or not, in its RevPro incarnation, until now there has never been a British Heavyweight Champion that won the belt from a fellow Brit. Sabre’s tenure and excellence makes him (at the very least) the best pro-wrestler Britain has produced since the Dynamite Kid, but he has been a poor champion for a long time. His appearances weren’t frequent enough and his Suzuki-Gun shtick meant he couldn’t be the face of the promotion. That final point was underlined by Ospreay’s fiery post-match promo. After thanking his parents, trainers, Andy Quildan and the fans, he brought Oku and Shaw to the ring. Flanked by the promotion’s other babyface champions, he put over British pro-wrestling, said that the three of them represented the best Britain had to offer, and scoffed at the idea Britwres was dead.
But of course, as we already explained, Britwres really did die. But maybe, just maybe, it came back to life on Valentine’s Day 2020. But if did, let nobody be in any doubt, the road back to good health will be long and arduous.
And the first step will be Will Ospreay confirming that he will be defending his new title at Epic Encounter in May.
High Stakes 2020 will shortly be available to watch on RPW on Demand. RevPro returns to York Hall on Friday, May 8, 2020.