Everyone’s home. The dust has settled. The first 16 Carat Gold in two years is in the books – and for a lot of those present, this was perhaps their first big live event since the start of the pandemic.

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For myself, last week’s trip to Oberhausen was the first time I’d travelled out of the UK since Carat 2020, so there was naturally some degree of trepidation. The restrictions for all parts of the journey were pretty loose – as long as you’d had all of your vaccines, there was no requirement for having a negative test ahead of any leg of the journey, which removed the potential threat of having checked out of your hotel to go home, only to get a positive test at the airport and all the joys that would bring.

Being British, this was also the first spot of international travelling I’d done since Brexit, which meant that the days of using the EU queues at passport control were in the past. Add in the current requirement of having different worldwide covid vaccination certificates, and you have a perfect recipe for nightmare queues. Still, at least everyone knew they needed to carry documentation with them, right? I mean, I did, but several in the queue on the day of my arrival did not…

Arriving in Oberhausen for the first time in two years, things instantly felt familiar – like going back to pre-pandemic times, just with the addition of wearing a facemask indoors. Yet like with any place you’ve not been too for a while, things had changed. The Centro’s now got Westfield branding on it… the Konig Pilsner-Arena is now the Rudolf Weber-Arena, with a cleaning company having bought the naming rights. Heck, even the Turbinenhalle’s had something of a makeover, with the roof bearing solar panels and the toilets somehow being renovated yet still covered in graffiti. It’s the little touches.

As far as the atmosphere, it was almost like the past two years had perhaps given people a collective sense that, even if this year’s line-up wasn’t as star studded. After everything the fans had been through since March 2020, 16 Carat Gold 2022 was almost as much about catharsis as it was about the wrestling – the release of being able to see and meet up with familiar faces whom you’d not seen for years.

In spite of a changed line-up, there was still a really positive mood around the Turbinenhalle all weekend. LuFisto came in as a replacement for Francisco Akira several weeks prior, while the big blow saw Biff Busick bow out after he’d tested positive ahead of his scheduled flight to Germany. After pondering around thirty names, considering availability and eligibility as far as covid regulations and certifications, Marius al-Ani came in for Biff, but ended up injuring his shoulder in his first round match… so for the first time since Emil Sitoci in 2018, the alternate came into play. Step forward Hektor, whose premonition that he’d get into the tournament after someone broke a leg or got crushed by a light almost came to pass…

We also had another late addition, in the form of GCW’s Ninja Mack. Coming weeks after a viral spot where he and Mike Bailey fought high up on (of all things) a curtain platform, Ninja Mack was initially added to the alternate match before night one, before winning, defending and dropping the Shotgun title over the remainder of the weekend.

Like Carat two years ago, NXT UK held tapings overlapping part of the weekender. But unlike in 2020, there were no surprise appearances from contracted wrestlers. No Teoman. No Dragunov. No Carter. Definitely no Gunther. Considering that the evening nights of Carat were sold out (as far as within regulations, which capped ticket sales at 750), there possibly wasn’t a need for a surprise… but it also speaks to the power of the Carat brand and wXw that they were able to get to that point without so much as teasing a surprise.

What the fans who were in the Turbinenhalle for the shows saw, were breakout performances aplenty. There was plenty of chatter over “the Hungarians,” who showed up and showed out across the weekend – and not just in the ring either. Sure, the Arrows of Hungary perhaps had headline status, but the newer faces (at least, those I’ve not seen live before) impressed – from Peter Tihanyi, to your Gulyas Brothers, to Tamas Szabo, Iva Kolasky, Maverick, and Orsi… they all stood out to various levels, and with promotions like HCW and Passion Pro likely to get some extra attention as a result, the trajectory of the Hungarian wrestling scene in the next 12-18 months will be extremely interesting to follow, as will the bookings those guys (and girls) get. There’s work to be done, but to see an entire country’s scene almost come out of nowhere and get the spotlight is always a good thing for those who’ve been putting in the hard work behind the scenes.

As for “what’s next” for wXw as a whole, well, the feeling around the promotion is one of positivity. Having spent their empty set shows preparing and building the next generation of talent – which meant that when we got to Carat, the table was set for the likes of Peter Tihanyi, Aigle Blanc and Dennis Dullnig to have the breakout weekends they did. The wheels of wXw don’t stop rolling, as the rest of spring has ten shows by the middle of June… and (touch wood) with restrictions fading away rather than ramping up, wXw should finally be able to start hitting a regular touring schedule.

Unfortunately for wXw, this spring schedule is also going to see the departure of one of their marquee players behind the scenes, with Katja Pilz leaving as the promotion’s head of video production. These were Katja’s last shows in Oberhausen, and they came with the extremely pleasant gift of having these shows streaming on a virtually-live basis, complete with English commentary from Dave Bradshaw and the super versatile Andy Jackson. That’s the sign of someone setting the bar stupidly high on her way out, considering few high level promotions (GWF?) have done live streams recently.

The next big festival for wXw is in October, as the World Tag Team Festival returns. The last two years saw wXw attempt a rounds-based tournament in the Catch Grand Prix… problem was, in 2020, we were waist-deep in the pandemic, and so all 43 Catch Grand Prix matches were taped in front of a managed crowd… while 2021’s attempt hit a massive stumbling block when the Turbinenhalle hadn’t completed its renovations, the four-day event was cancelled and placed with a one-night Blitztournier tournament… which internally wasn’t well received.

Still, if the current trajectory is anything to go by, October’s World Tag Team Festival should be a mix of established teams in wXw – perhaps with a comedy team on the fringe of the title scene like Rott und Flott – with a couple of outsiders in the mix. Of course, there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge – and while there may be ideas of boosting Fast Time Moodo and Stephanie Maze’s reign throughout the rest of the year, there’s one thing the last two years has taught us: never take anything for granted.

These Oberhausen weekends have always felt like a home away from home for me. Dates you go out of your way to attend, travel be damned. While the next one in October may be a little different, as far as the shows being Saturday-Sunday-Monday (and likely, an Inner Circle in Gelsenkirchen rather than Katernberg), I’m already counting down the days until I’m boarding that flight to Dusseldorf. Masks be damned.

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