Three days, 31 matches – a whole lot of wrestling, and a renewed appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes. So, how was our World Tag Team League experience?
wXw were kind enough to offer us access to the 2017 World Tag Team League weekender in Oberhausen – so of course, we had to accept. After all, it was last year’s World Tag Team League that got us watching wXw in the first place!
After a few unwanted delays (thanks BA, for having me check in luggage when there was space in the overhead lockers!), I arrived at the media centre inside the Turbinenhalle just before 5pm on the Friday afternoon… thanks to some pointers from Arnold Furious, and confirmation from Christian Jakobi that “yes, that is the right door”.
For those who’ve never been, the Turbinenhalle is a rather unassuming venue to the naked eye, just a short walk away from (of all things) a discount erotic video store… if it weren’t for the giant sign right above you, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the wrong part of town. But persist, and ye shall be rewarded.
First up for us were those Q&A panels, held in front of a slew of “wrestling media” and their assorted podcasts. We’ll have some select quotes from those later this week- just to give you a flavour of what happened away from the cameras.
After some choice words from Jurn Simmons, David Starr, Tassilo Jung and Dirty Dragan, it was go time, as one soon-to-be-former-favourite would say. Our review of the opening night of Tag League was up moments after the final bell, and as a first taste of the “true” wXw live experience, this was unbeatable. We’ve already reviewed the three nights, but there’s one thing that goes without saying – a huge part of the live experience is seeing the entrances that can’t be shown on the VOD. As catchy as RetroFuture Dirty is, nothing beats Cerberus coming out to Gunnar Olsen’s Barge… or Ilja Dragunov to the Soviet Union’s theme from the Command & Conquer 3 video game… or Dirty Dragan and Young Money Chong using Pitbull Terrier by Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra. You get my drift… and I’ve not even touched
The next morning saw a trip to the wXw Wrestling Academy in Essen. On the outside, it’s a very unassuming building, save for the signage that gives it away. Inside though, it’s extremely functional – it’s the same building that the Inner Circle shows take place in, with the addition of a padded flooring for warm-ups, and some gym equipment to help. Once warmed up, five trainees were put through some drills led by Alexander James – who showed himself to be a quite amenable, but demanding coach. From the basics of critiquing bumps, to pointing out to trainees why they need to look in certain areas – be it before they leave their feet, or when they’re getting back up – James showed wisdom much beyond that you’d expect from his age.
Following those drills, we were then treated to an almost hour-long Q&A from James, WALTER and Thatcher, which covered a litany of topics, from a perceived need for a medical policy, to why Academy trainees are required to make their debut for wXw before taking other bookings, to why less is so much more in wrestling. Sitting under the learning tree, even as a fan, was absorbing – and had there not been shows going on later in the day, I’m pretty sure we’d still have been there asking and listening…
It was back to Oberhausen for the Femmes Fatales tournament, and it has to be said that this show was a bit of a cursed one for wXw. There were multiple changes to the initial 8-woman field; first, Amale Winchester was replaced by Alex Windsor… who then dropped out late on and was replaced by Wesna. Just hours before the show, Pauline dropped out with an injury that was going to rule her out of the remainder of the wXw Women’s Championship Tournament as well. There was no short-notice replacement, so Wesna got a bye to the semis… Alpha Female was also announced, but withdrew as well. Her replacement, Portugal’s Killer Kelly, stole the show despite going out in the first round – so much so that she ended up being added to the second night of the World Tag Team League. Yep, because… injury.
Melanie Gray, who went out in the first round to eventual finalist Viper, picked up a knee injury during her match… which meant that she had to forfeit her championship tournament match against Jinny later in the evening. Whilst Killer Kelly ate another loss, her performance across the two shows may well have done enough to get her back in wXw – and sure enough, between me writing this on the way back home and posting this, Kelly has been announced as Pauline’s replacement for the rest of the tournament!
During the weekend, various announcements were made for wXw’s short/medium-term future. Firstly, was the return of Zack Sabre Jr, who’ll be back for their 17th anniversary show at the end of the year…
Then was the announcement of a combined show that’ll be held over 16 Carat Gold weekend next year. The Kult Temple, a venue that’s literally in the shadow of the Turbinenhalle, will play host to a show called #Wrestling Deutschland, which will feature multiple smaller companies in Germany banding together for a show that’s designed to give them a bigger platform.
Think of it as a version of the Weekly Pro Wrestling “Bridge of Dreams” show from 1995 – a 12 match show which had a “feature match” from a dozen promotions. That show will be taking place on the “middle Saturday” during Carat weekend – as well as the AMBITION tournament and the Carat show as well. Add in the after-party, it’s going to be a crammed Saturday in Oberhausen…
Finally, wXw announced the first three entrants into Carat. Travis Banks, Jeff Cobb and Penta el Zero M. No big deals, eh?
Throughout the weekend, there were several wrestlers who stood out that perhaps took us – and the rest of the media panels – by surprise. We’ve already shouted out Killer Kelly from the rooftops, so we’ll park that one. This isn’t an exhaustive list, so if your favourite wrestler isn’t on here, it’s not a slight. Nobody on the entire weekend was a disappointment – which says a lot given the sheer number of performers on show over the three days.
Alexander James has been a little under the radar in wXw, featuring more on Shotgun than in main storylines; but this weekend has really opened our eyes to him. Likewise with Jaxon Stone – perhaps a polarising figure given his propensity for vanity searching on Twitter (but be realistic, it’s part of any wrestler’s job description these days, it feels!). Still, to be able to generate a vociferous reaction from a crowd for something as simple as taking a jacket off is a good sign. It fits within wXw’s credence that there’s more to wrestling than good matches – because whilst being able to throw a hiptoss or believably react to an armbar is part of being a wrestler, if the character giving or receiving doesn’t connect, then it’s all for nothing.
EYFBO… I don’t watch Impact. Or GFW. Or whatever they’re calling themselves this month. Total Global Impact Force? Indeed, the first I’d even seen of EYFBO was on the Beyond Wrestling show that was on Powerbomb.tv last month (our review of which will be going up tomorrow in lieu of a Shotgun review for the week). Over the course of three matches, EYFBO won over some new fans in Germany – and if things work out, I can see them being a semi-regular part of the company.
Bobby Gunns… when we first started watching wXw, we were far from sold on Gunns, but throughout 2017, as wXw has gotten behind him, the overall package has come in in leaps and bounds. Initially slotted for just a four-way over the weekend, Gunns came in as a late addition to Sunday’s card for a match against Homicide – one that was a fair bit removed from his usual style. It worked though – and another W for Gunns has left him well on the path to more serious title contention, although it may need to be in the post-RISE era since he’s been kept well away from that storyline.
Cerberus… I’m bunching everyone together here, but the way the Cerberus and RISE stories intertwined over the weekend was a marvel. Starting off with Da Mack narrowly losing to Julian Nero on the Friday, to Mack deliberately costing Ilja Dragunov the world title on Saturday (and then joining RISE), to the reunion of Cerberus… even a week ago, this was not something that anyone could have seen coming. Sure, Avalanche was up against Ivan Kiev, whilst Ilja had Bad Bones… but the first nine months of 2017 were spent establishing the split. Surely the reunion would go down like a lead balloon?
Absolutely not. Cerberus’ return generated a huge roar in Oberhausen – and if this is more than a one-time deal, then it seems that the wXw “home team” have a new dog in the fight against RISE.
Up on “press row” was a rogues gallery of some of the “wrestling media”’s finest. As much as I loathe that term… from a personal perspective, there were many names whom I’d spoken to online (and in two cases, interviewed/been interviewd by), but had barely met. Given how rare these things are, it’s nice for the collective to band together and help each other out. Whether it was correcting quotes, filling in blanks (particularly before Thommi Giesen started doing bi-lingual announcements) or just giving nudges… the wrestling community, at its best, works like a brotherhood. This weekend was just one of many examples.
The press panels wrapped up on the Sunday afternoon with a panel with Christian Michael Jakobi. Once the issue regarding Low Ki’s injury (which has since emerged as a torn ACL (all from a double stomp onto WALTER on the ramp), talk turned to more mundane matters.
Among a largely British contingent, there was a rather eyebrow-raising reason given as to why wXw use the smaller rings they do: apparently there’s laws against certain trucks driving on Sundays, and since a bigger ring would require a larger truck, it was a mutually exclusive deal.
Some more quotes from Jakobi included this gem: “Carat was a gift of a show because it gave fans so many moments, a lot of feel good moments… it can’t always be Christmas. Sometimes you have to invest… couple of risks you’ve taken, and some we’ll be taking today.” That was CMJ talking about paying off storylines, noting that they like giving fans presents. Such as the Cerberus return later that night…
It was a refreshing talk from Jakobi – one that perfectly summed up the promotion’s entire approach for the weekend. Professional, yet open. Revealing, yet still able to maintain an air of mystique around events of the weekend. At a time when some promotions can be easily construed as viewing the “wrestling media” as a pain, this was refreshing… and we’re not just talking about wXw’s newly instituted “GIF policy”. Which is “Go Nuts, and tag wXwNOW.de”.
In a plea for feedback, Dan from Rock Bottom Radio offered up that an announcement made during the wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship match was lost on a lot of folks who didn’t speak German. That announcement being the declaration that if Bad Bones got disqualified… he’d lose his title. Some companies could have reacted with a rather blunt “you’re in Germany, what’d you expect?” or perhaps a “it’ll have been mentioned on commentary”.
That feedback was quickly taken on board as that evening’s show featured announcements in German and in English, such as when the RISE/Cerberus match was confirmed. We’ll have one more story up by the end of the week, featuring quotes from the past weekend… but in the meantime, go to our new Instagram page for some photos (and eventually, video) from this weekend!
wXw have a creative direction, it’s clear to see. With just their weekly Shotgun TV and the monthly events, wXw’s product is reminiscent of WWE before they increased their output seemingly exponentially. That blend works for wXw – it allows them to tell logical stories, at a pace that (largely) they control without having to rush to a conclusion for the sake of a themed pay-per-view.
We’ve been banging the drum for a while now, but when it comes to overall product, there’s not much out there that beats wXw. It’s a WWE-like format, with all of the charm of an independent company. Sure, you’re not guaranteed “workrate heavy” matches, but given that some of our complaints about certain promotions have been based around the lack of storylines, it’s a trade-off I’m more than willing to make.
Although wXw’s product is available on HighSpots, if you try it there and like it, I thoroughly suggest that you take the plunge with the wXw Now service – which offers a huge archive of their back catalogue of TV shows, feature events and a variety of compilations. If you try wXw and like it… it’s right up there with the best value for money VoD service.