A little over ten years ago, I started attending wrestling shows on a fairly regular basis. At the time, I was living in a former mining village in England, and save for the odd show here and there, wrestling in that part of the world was was limited to local wrestlers who may or may not have been trained, and nothing more.
Hindsight would later go on to show that I’d been near shows that would feature future stars like Prince Devitt (Finn Balor), Zack Sabre Jr, and of course, Pac (Adrian Neville, who’d probably the biggest name wrestler to ever come from the north east of England). However, the creation of 1 Pro Wrestling gave English wrestling fans a chance to see some big names on a regular basis, without having to make the trek towards London.
For myself, it was an opportunity to see some of the biggest names outside WWE. 1PW’s shows were being held a mere 90 minute drive away from my home, and although the company’s tendency to host “pre-shows” in the afternoon then have the evening show run late necessitated the booking of a Travelodge/motel-like room for the night or an overdose of caffeine and a late return home, it was well worth the drive.
Having missed 1PW’s first show (chalk that up to an overwhelming dose of skepticism!), the company’s debut in October 2005 featured the likes of AJ Styles, Raven, Abyss, Low Ki and Steve Corino, on top of British talent such as Doug Williams, Jonny Storm and Jody Fleisch. Jump forward to the company’s second and third shows – where they started a tournament to crown a champion – and that roster was bolstered by the likes of Jerry Lynn, Petey Williams, Masato Tanaka, Harry Smith, Jeff Jarrett, Charlie Haas, Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels.
At the time, 1PW were able to sell out the Doncaster Dome – a state-owned building that housed swimming pools, a gym, an indoor ice-rink, and an exhibition hall that was able to seat 1700 people.
Upon arrival at the “arena” in the Dome, you were greeted with a fairly shallow ringside area – looking from the hard camera’s perspective, behind the ring would be around five rows of seating with a video screen above those. For those of you who have seen wrestling on a stage in a theatre, it was the closest thing you’d get to seeing this layout in a traditional building. The influx of foreign wrestlers turned 1PW into the flavour of the month, and whilst the company enjoyed sell-outs, tickets that went as high as £65 ensured that quick-sellouts weren’t the order of the day.
1PW’s first eight shows in Doncaster saw the company establish some running storylines, like how Spud was never able to overcome Abyss and how Sterling James Keenan (now NXT commentator Corey Graves) became a cult hero. Crucially though, what those shows did not do, was establish any homegrown stars to become the face of the company. Whilst Darren Burridge was something of a favourite in league with Colt Cabana (as “Team SHAG”), 1PW was unable to create “their guy” who they didn’t have to fly-in for every show.
Cases in point: 1PW’s debut show featured no less than eighteen fly-ins – ensuring that only one match featured nothing but Brits. Following up their October 2005 debut with a double-header in January 2006, the company’s “No Turning Back Weekend” featured 20 imports, as did their “All or Nothing” weekend in March, where the company crowned their first World champion. That crept up slightly for their “Know Your Enemy” weekend, during which 1PW held a tournament to crown tag team champions.
Although the shows were fun to go to, there were evident drawbacks. With the group still overly reliant on imports, 1PW started to grow a feeling of being “TNA-Lite”, with a lot of matches on the cards being something either lifted from or tweaked from TNA. AJ Styles vs. Abyss, for one… and for those of you who raved over the AJ Styles/Samoa Joe/Christopher Daniels three-way, well, 1PW had that for you too, but with the curious addition of Charlie Haas. It also didn’t help that TNA’s jack-of-all-trades Jeremy Borash appeared at 1PW shows to film content for TNA’s Impact television show. In addition, 1PW would frequently run late, which would be a pain for fans who hadn’t made plans at any nearby hotels – giving fans a Hobson’s choice of either leaving to guarantee getting home, or staying to the end of the show and then having to look for accommodation.
Following eight shows in seven months (granted, mostly made up of weekend double-and-triple headers), 1PW started to branch out, holding shows in front of slightly smaller crowds in the Yorkshire towns of Barnsley and Hull. Those shows did feature fewer fly-ins (but still included the only 1PW appearance of “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka), but by this point the writing was already on the wall for the company. The introduction of the “Fight Club” strand of shows gave the company a breeding ground to develop home-grown talent, but a lack of imports also coincided with a lack of fans, with all of the Fight Club shows in Doncaster drawing around the 600-fan mark. For most promotions, 600 fans would be a good number, but even then, 1PW were still flying some wrestlers in – and crucially – were trying to make these shows profitable.
Following the company’s First Anniversary Show in October 2006 – featuring a no-rope barbed wire main event, and just the thirteen fly-ins – 1PW went three months before their next “A” show. The 2007 edition of “No Turning Back”, featuring the British debut of Japanese legend the Great Muta. January 13, 2007 should have been the day when Keiji Mutoh arrived in the Doncaster Dome, but just after the turn of the year, things hit the skids.
January 3, 2007, 1PW released a statement, announcing that the company had gone into liquidation. All upcoming shows were off, and fans were invited to join the (allegedly) lengthy list of creditors. In the absence of any finer details, rumours and allegations started flying around – claims of fans seeing their credit cards charged twice, tickets not being delivered, and worse. To put it bluntly, it was a mess.
The days that followed 1PW’s announced liquidation saw another local promotion step into the breech, with 3 Count Wrestling – based out of Middlesbrough – putting on a “tribute” show at the Doncaster Dome. Fans who opted against getting a refund for the cancelled 1PW show would instead be able to see the replacement 3CW “Will Not Die” show, but not – crucially – the Great Muta. In the immediate aftermath, Muta ended up taking a booking in Bethnal Green, London, against Martin Stone, the day before his scheduled 1PW gig. With the lack of fanfare, that match for RQW took place in front of an estimated 350 fans.
Live in Doncaster, the 3CW show felt like a memorial of sorts, with the crowd believing that this was the end of an era. An era where upwards of a dozen wrestlers would be flown into Doncaster every few months. An era where the likes of Lance Storm, AJ Styles, Tommy Dreamer, Raven, the Sandman, Samoa Joe and Takeshi Morishima would appear at the small council run building in rural Yorkshire.
The cobbled-together farewell show did get a few familiar faces, with Sterling James Keenan appearing in the semi-main event, whilst Ulf Hermann won the newly-vacated 1PW title in what was supposed to have been the final 1PW-branded match history. Much like Ezekiel Jackson would go on to do when WWE killed of ECW in 2010. Except it wasn’t the final show that 1PW would book.
Just four days after the 3CW “Will Not Die” show, the owners of 1PW resurfaced online and announced that they suddenly found an investor, and they were back in business. The company’s critics – and even those who up until then had been staunch backers of the promotion – smelled a rat. Anyone with an ounce of business sense would be able to tell you that you can’t go from ceasing trading and entering liquidation, to rising from the dead within the space of fourteen days. Yet, if you believed the press releases, that’s exactly what happened to 1PW Promotions Limited.
In the same press release that announced their return to trading, 1PW even had the gall to announce another show – The Resurrection. This would turn out to be the final 1PW event I’d ever attend.
1PW: Resurrection would turn out to be a co-promoted effort between 1PW and the Italian upstart company NWE, whom had made quite a lot of noise since their creation in late 2005, when wrestling had gotten big in Italy. Using a lot of former WWE and WCW stars, such as Scott Steiner, Vampiro, Chris Masters, Andrew “Test” Martin, Ultimo Dragon and Heidenreich (now how’s that for a spectrum of talent!), along with guys who hadn’t had a WWE/WCW run like Jack Evans and Milano Collection AT, NWE had made a splash in mainland Europe. But in the United Kingdom, all they were known for was that they were the proverbial noisy neighbours – and that was the storyline: NWE were coming to 1PW to prove their worth.
Unfortunately, this led to a card that should have been good to watch, but ultimately, was a mess. Resurrection featured four matches between 1PW and NWE talent, but only one of them ended cleanly: Ultimo Dragon beat El Ligero with an Asai DDT; Mad Man Manson beat Heidenreich when the former Road Warrior just left the ring and walked away; PAC retained the 1PW Openweight title via DQ against Juventud Guerrera after the NWE crew ran in and attacked PAC (who would ironically go on to work for NWE the following year); and the final match between the two groups saw Romeo Roselli retain the NWE title via DQ over Sterling James Keenan following multiple run-ins. All of those run ins were supposed to be leading to something – War Games!
For the uninitiated, War Games is a multi-man match, held inside a steel cage. One man from each team starts, with the teams taking turns to have additional men enter at set intervals. It’s a match made famous by WCW, and later bastardised by TNA as the Lethal Lockdown. Unfortunately for the fans in Doncaster, the business relationship between 1PW and NWE fell apart so badly that not only did the two companies not work together again, but it also ensured that the Resurrection show never see the light of day on DVD.
And so ended my love affair with 1PW. Although I had gotten used to shows running late and requiring a hotel stay, the Resurrection show for many was the final straw. Resurrection was a million miles away from what I had been used to seeing at 1PW – and with their return card featuring a load of run-ins and disputed finishes, the company quickly went from feeling like TNA-lite to a poor man’s WWE, except with extra frustration. When you added in the in-fighting between fans: on one side, those who were willingly accepting anything and everything that was being said by management regarding the company’s position, and on the other, those who were growing increasingly skeptical as the product morphed. It made the product somewhat of a chore to follow, as the political arguments amongst fans online and during shows started to detract from the very thing we’d paid for: the action in the ring.
It’d be almost a decade before I’d attend another independent show in the UK (that is, something that wasn’t promoted by WWE, TNA, or was a one-off event such as the Lucha Future show in London in 2015). What put the dampeners on my love of live wrestling? Was it wanting to avoid being hoodwinked in future? Was it the knowledge that the bigger touring companies weren’t as likely to fall apart? Or was it that 1PW had a clear drop in imported talent – with TNA now running shows in the UK, there was no need for a TNA-lite group when TNA themselves are running in the same country. Or was it a generic sheer lack of faith in the company?
By the end of 2007, 1PW would go on to run monthly shows, much like WWE had done with the advent of the “In Your House” pay-per-views around a decade earlier. However, these new “Underground” events eschewed the Doncaster Dome, with 1PW instead using smaller buildings in Doncaster. If the Doncaster Dome didn’t sound glamorous, then working men’s clubs like the Ashmount and the Granby certainly weren’t going to set the heart racing. Flown-in talent became restricted to the bigger Dome shows, as the Underground shows ran what was left of the promotion’s reputation into the ground. From over 1500 fans to just dozens of fans, in spite of bearing the same name, 1PW was definitely not the same group that had people talking in 2006. Indeed, the group would go on to change ownership several times, with the final new owner opting to relocate the promotion to the north-west of England, but it was too little, too late.
In hindsight, 1PW should never have returned following their 2007 “Will Not Die” tribute show – at least not using the same name. As a fan, I had not lost out financially from any of the shenanigans of the company’s first shutdown, but myself and seemingly a growing number of 1PW fans had found themselves bankrupted when it came to goodwill. Although the company did continue to use top-line talent from home and abroad, rumours of financial woes were never too far away from the 1PW name, a situation that evidently scared away fans from the product.
The five-and-a-half-year, 57-show-long run of 1PW would leave a scar on the British wrestling scene. A scar that has just about faded away, with groups like PROGRESS, Revolution Pro and ICW showing that you can sell out and enjoy longevity without spending yourself into bankruptcy and flying in what felt like half of America.