While there has been a tremendous focus on Wrestlemania week, it’s easy to forget that the weekend is also pretty important for indie wrestling promotions. Ellie Zoe looks back at the recent shows taking place during Wrestlemania 34 weekend.
Every year around the beginning of April, the majority of the professional wrestling world all gather in one location, in a celebration of the sport and everything to do with it. Wrestlemania is the flagship show for WWE and draws thousands of attendees, but Wrestlemania certainly isn’t the only show being held over the the weekend. Even if you ignore NXT and their Takeover event that takes place the night before, you’ll find plenty of other promotions running fantastic shows anywhere up to several days before the big event.
There’s plenty of choice when it comes to what to watch, perhaps almost a little too much choice. Progress, Ring of Honour and WWN all run major shows over Wrestlemania weekend (it should be noted that Progress shows aren’t available on demand until a week or so after the event). WWN promote smaller run shows too, and provide some fantastic variety. Even though, at times, we’re seeing the same wrestlers over and over again during the course of the weekend, the matches and shows they take part in can be wildly different.
I was fortunate enough to watch three non-WWE events over Wrestlemania weekend, each wildly different from the other. The first show I was able to catch was Matt Riddle’s Bloodsport – presented by Game Changer Wrestling. Bloodsport had a fairly unique premise. Whilst every bout was very much still a professional wrestling match, the only way to win was via knockout or submission, perhaps in an attempt to give it a slight MMA feel. There were also no ropes around the ring, which was, in short, odd.
The matches themselves were of a varying quality. There were a lot of good ideas and sequences, but sometimes the fights felt a little disjointed, and more often than not, far too short. Yes, some MMA fights are only a few seconds long, but this is still professional wrestling, and the audience could have probably done with a little more time to warm up to each of the matches. Finishes had a tendency to be awfully abrupt too. One bout saw Martin Stone (Danny Burch in NXT) take on Masada. Unfortunately, the fight was over before it ever really began. As soon as things started to get going, the official stopped the match, and nobody was even really sure why.
If there was a saving grace to the show, it had to be the main event. Matt Riddle vs Minoru Suzuki (a match only booked at the last minute thanks to a no-show from wrestler Low-Ki) also suffered slightly from a fairly brief run time, but you got at least a taste of exactly what you’d expect from a match between the two, including a bit of grappling on the apron that I can’t recall having seen done before.
Bloodsport was far from a bad show, but it felt a little lackluster. GCW’s other special show over the weekend however, felt far from it. Joey Janela’s Spring Break 2 was an absolute spectacle. Whilst all of the matches on the Bloodsport card felt relatively similar, Spring Break featured a variety of wildly different bouts. PCO vs Walter was a drawn-out, hard hitting affair with a good few spots a chap of PCO’s age shouldn’t be able to perform, let alone with such ease. The Clusterf**k match was a real treat, with some ‘unique’ entrants and a satisfying conclusion. Joey Janela vs the Great Sasuke was more of a full scale war, featuring some legitimately terrifying sequences – particularly that bit with the bin. You’ll understand if you watch it.
The third, and perhaps longest of the three shows was Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor. Longest doesn’t necessarily equate to best however, and whilst the show definitely had its moments, a good portion just fell a little flat for me. Matches that could have been great, like Tomohiro Ishii vs Punishment Martinez ended up being little more than fine, and others were somewhat spoiled by silly little mistakes, like the powder incident in the ROH championship match.
It’s tempting to say that the show could have massively benefited from a reduced card and a smaller run time. Chuckie T vs Jonathan Gresham wasn’t an awful match by any measure, but did it really need to be on such a major show for the promotion? The Bully Ray promo was nice, but again, is it perhaps something that could have served better on weekly programming instead? I’ll admit that I’m not a regular ROH viewer, so I could be completely missing the mark here, but then again, it’s worth keeping in mind that a lot of the people tuning in to Supercard aren’t going to be die-hard ROH fans.
It wasn’t all negatives of course, and there was some really solid in-ring action to be had. Kota Ibushi took on Hangman Page, in a relevant, story driven match that felt very much at place on the lower card of a big PPV. The 6-man tag surprised in a big way, and went from a match I couldn’t have cared less about going in to one of the highlights of the whole show.
There was a metric tonne of wrestling over Mania weekend, and whether you were lucky enough to be there in person, or watching from the comfort of home, there was quite legitimately something for every wrestling fan. Independent wrestling is fantastic, and arguably the backbone of the industry. These are the companies putting out the major stars, like AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan, and supporting them is of huge importance. If you’ve the time, check some independent wrestling out, and you’ll likely find yourself pleasantly surprised.
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