Sitting in a hotel room somewhere in Utrecht, some days after the conclusion to 16 Carat Gold, I’m still digesting the happenings of a truly magical weekend in Oberhausen.

Of course, the big takeaway is the surprise return of Ilja Dragunov – a man whose pop was so loud and sustained, it drowned out his music. Don’t believe us… well, wXw have kindly posted the video on YouTube, just to see how much the Soviet March from Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 was obscured by those packed into the Turbinenhalle!

But what about the rest of the weekend that generated so much buzz, so much hype, so much feeling?

We haven’t watched Inner Circle yet (that’ll be on our to-do list when we get back to the UK, along with everything else, including however we decide to handle the New Japan Cup), but from the shows we did get to, and can’t spoil…

• Absolute Andy’s run throughout the tournament was a bit surprising – I certainly didn’t envisage Andy making it to the final day, let alone winning the tournament… but the story they’ve told throughout with Andy has been sublime.

From the foreshadowing of the break-up of A4 (remember those little trailers as Shotgun went into commercials, particularly the one of Absolute Andy staring a hole through Marius al-Ani… as Marius was warming up?), to the turn itself, and the matches since, where all of Andy’s wins have come with some outside help – be it through plunder or the referee missing things like a foot on the rope. For someone who prides himself on being the “Veteran” of wXw, Absolute Andy’s latest run has been something of a revelation as a bad guy that has no qualms in taking shortcuts without even rubbing it in our faces.

Subtlety is a joy, isn’t it?

• On the go-home episode of Shotgun, WALTER had a promo video that featured the line “I take responsibility that after 16 Carat Gold, the belt, the Grand Prix of our sport, will be with a deserving world champion again.”

It was oh so easy to think of it as “WALTER’s going to win the title”. Why wouldn’t you?

At the wXw media lunch before the tournament started, the topic of Ilja Dragunov was raised, but absolutely nobody thought he’d be back this weekend… let alone to win the title. Truth be told, we’d all forgotten about the whole “WALTER has a stipulation to pick” wrinkle, which made the surprise even sweeter.

Since Ilja left wXw after the 17th anniversary show, there’d been virtually no mention of him. It wasn’t rammed down our throats that “Bad Bones made Ilja retire”, nor were there any Simpsons/Poochie like mentions of “hey, where’s Ilja gone?” at any point. We were allowed to forget about it, which made the surprise return even better.

Again, subtlety is a joy, isn’t it?

• Although the wXw women’s title tournament “went to shit” (Christian Jakobi’s words, not ours – presumably due to the planned final being thrown out of the window because of travel issues messing up their round robin leaderboard), the stories being told since Killer Kelly became the inaugural champion have been a sight to behold.

From Kelly having been derided as a “fluke” champion, to her dropping the belt to Toni Storm, to the story we had going into the weekend, with Melanie Gray looking to claim what she thought was rightfully hers… a story that saw Gray slowly morph into an “ice queen” (all the way down to wXw sending a gust of cold air towards the audience for her entrance… because ice queen).

Gray came up short, but not for the want of trying in a match we’ll need to rewatch as some are calling it the best women’s match in wXw history. The next night saw Storm knock-off another name from her recent wXw past, as Wesna made her return to the promotion. Those of us who saw last year’s Femmes Fatales tournament were mightily impressed with the veteran’s showing – and her outing this time more than met expectations. Although Toni’s back in Japan now, and Veda Scott’s tour of Germany is coming to an end, there’s a need to bring in a new story in the coming weeks. Do we go back to Melanie Gray being bitter towards Killer Kelly? Is Martina back in the picture full-time? Or is there another face we’ve not even considered as a new challenger for Toni Storm comes to the fore?

• Across the course of all wXw shows (including Shotgun tapings), it was nice to see that just about every regular on the roster has a purpose. There’s nobody there making up the numbers, nor is there anyone there whose future seemed overly obvious. Sure, the expectation going in was that David Starr was going to win… but just after 9pm on Saturday night, all that was thrown out of the window.

Now, David Starr needs a new path. His plan to win 16 Carat Gold to get a crack at WALTER fell short – on both fronts. Does he make a run for the title, or does he try another way to get to WALTER?

Speaking of WALTER, what’s next for him? His selfless decision to add a third man to the title match ended up being to his detriment, as his three year wait to regain wXw’s top title continued. Even worse, the next night, his decision to allow RISE to cash in their tag title shot on night three led to RINGKAMPF losing the belts… and seemingly the departure of Thatcher from the promotion (for now).

• The media centre panels are always good for quotes and audio for the podcast crew. Over World Tag Team League, Christian Jakobi gave us his philosophy for booking: “it can’t always be Christmas.” That maxim was in force again this weekend: Ilja Dragunov’s return was like everyone’s Christmases coming at once… whereas the following night, with Absolute Andy winning Carat, Thatcher departing and RISE winning the tag titles felt like a massive comedown. Not in a bad way, mind you, because we all knew that there’s so much potential down the line for next steps.

To paraphrase something else said during the press panels, “there’s hundreds of ways to do wrestling, but you can only follow one path” – and while it’s unfair to single out any promotion for doing this, it’s nice to see a promotion that isn’t going down a single road that doesn’t seem to have any prospect of diversions or junctions away from it.

At the start of the weekend, we all thought we’d be building up to David Starr vs. WALTER for the title. Instead, we’re facing down a title match between Ilja Dragunov and Absolute Andy – something that I guarantee nobody but those within wXw was even thinking of.

• Wrestlers as fans… we were there covering the show as media, however unlike World Tag Team League, the sheer number of wrestlers wanting to watch Carat meant that the media folks were pushed up to the second tier of the balcony. For 99.9% of events at the Turbinenhalle that’s an improvement… unfortunately for wrestling, it’s not so good, hence why a good chunk of the media folks headed down to the floor (an area affectionately dubbed the “Irish section” for reasons you can probably guess).

For us, it meant spending most of the weekend kneeling on a metal bar stool, crouching down to type hurried sentences and hope that any typos were glaringly obvious/spotted by Google Docs when we went online to post the review as fans were leaving the venue. That’s not a complaint – given what we saw in the Turbinenhalle over those last three days, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

As for “wrestlers as fans”… as the Carat tournament progressed, there ended up being so many wrestlers watching on from above, they ended up spilling onto the higher levels of the balcony in a bid to get a good view. By the finals, you even had the Rotation standing on a dividing wall near the VIP bar in order to see things. I kid you not!

• Star making performances. It’s usually the case when you have a huge audience from abroad, especially the UK, it seems, that the crowd becomes more vocal. Look at the last few WrestleMania weekends where the “hardcore” crowds have completely overwhelmed (and in some cases “hijacked” shows).

This weekend, not only did the travelling contingent get praised by the locals (I saw two separate occasions where “regulars” thanks some of the British and Irish fans), but it also played a huge part in elevating two of the wXw roster to the point where they could plausibly become break-out stars if the trigger needs to be pulled.

On the wXw NOW feed, you’ll be well aware that the live music gets edited off, even if it’s copyright-free stuff (such as Bad Bones’ regular theme or Jay FK’s music). So when things like Ilja Dragunov’s monster pop happen, wXw tends to drop the unedited version onto YouTube… but when you have a spontaneous crowd reaction, well, the best plan is to keep that reaction going well after the music stops. Like we saw on night two, when Bobby Gunns came out for his Shotgun title defence.

At Ambition, we saw Gunns get serenaded with chants of “Gunns! Bobby Gunns!” in time to the beat of his Daft Punk theme music. This continued, with the sizable Irish Section™ keeping the chant going well into his match… to the point that on night three, they were thanked in person by him. Look out for the footage on Shotgun and/or tour promo pieces sometime soon!

• Parts of this probably read like a “love letter” to wXw, but there’s a lot to be said for treating your promotion like a business. Not that every major promotion doesn’t, but a lot of the thought processes that go into wXw involve detail that is mind-blowing… and that’s coming from someone whose show reviews regularly enter the several-thousand-word ranges.

Take for example, their wXwNOW.de streaming service. At €9.99 a month, it’s one of the more expensive services, especially when you consider that they don’t usually feature partner promotions like others. However, their service is always the first to get new content along with Shotgun, as well as exclusives such as the most recent series chronicling WALTER’s ten years in wXw, or the SpielAbend game show… a series that is unashamedly cheap, but also enthralling. Seriously, the show’s filmed in the wXw training academy, with the set consisting of a table and some ring skirts taped to the wall.

This isn’t me “budget shaming” wXw or anything like that. When the subject came up at the press lunch, Tassilo Jung was proud of it… and so he/they should be. Considering the show is “just” two wXw wrestlers on their day off, and some materials probably bought just down the road from Lidl, it’s a surprisingly good watch as you see wrestlers pair off in things like playing cup and ball, or “how long can you plank for?”

It’s a microcosm of something that embodies wXw. As a promotion, they created history this weekend, with 1,000 fans inside the Turbinenhalle, generating the most buzz I can recall for a Carat weekender. Yet, for all of the pyro and ballyhoo (I’ve always wanted to cram that phrase into a piece!), wXw isn’t a spendthrift promotion, throwing good money after bad on things that don’t matter one jot to the end product. It’s a promotion that is more than the sum of its parts.

• The wXw way isn’t to pit “PWI #1 versus PWI #2” in a match. The wXw way is to craft storylines, to get the fans invested in the product, and have them biting at every turn on the way. As much as I hate to pick on anyone as an example, Dirty Dragan is perhaps the best illustration of a wXw “project”: someone who perhaps wouldn’t be held up as the best in the world, but is the sort of character that fans love to see… and is a real hoot to be around when the clock isn’t running. I only got to experience that at the #WrestlingDeutschland show, but all accounts of this weekend told me that that wasn’t a one-off…

So you take a company that, without breaking the bank, has amassed production values among the best on the independent scene… has a business model that allows them to run more than a show a week most weeks… yet still break into a market that admittedly is more than saturated, and come away with success? All while having more than a passing eye to nurturing the future of the scene, be it in the form of shows like #WrestlingDeutschland, or the company’s academy that is more than just a training school… but a part of the community (as witnessed by the training exhibition they put on at the Fan Expo with the academy’s childrens’ class doing drills)?

Is it any wonder why wXw has won over the hearts and minds of fans and pundits? I’m not alone in saying that, on current form, it won’t be the wrestling that stops us from making these regular pilgrimages to this part of the Ruhr – and with any luck, our second trip to the Turbinenhalle will be far from our last. Once you factor in the time spent with all of the like-minded fans who’ve also made the trip over – an ever-growing throng that, without knowing it, are life-affirming. There’s way too many to name in fear of missing folks out, but you know who you are – making you safe in the knowledge that you made the right call getting on that plane, train and automobile for your trip over to Germany.

If you’re not already on board with wXw, you really ought to give them a chance via wXwNOW.de. Like us, you’ll be massively hooked.

• Reviews of the Inner Circle and the #WrestlingDeutschland show will follow – the latter will be available

And now… our photo gallery from Carat weekend (click on the image if it’s not scrolling for you)

16 Carat Gold 2018