A year after returning, 3CW were back in Darlington for a monster of a show – featuring some real big lads in bruising contests! Rampage vs. Keith Lee anyone??

Our customary music video opens the show, with a lot of slow-mo goodness of big lads throwing other big lads, before we go to Stevie Aaron who seemed to babyface things by saying that 3CW’s first Encore back was in Hartlepool… and now they’re doing in Darlington. Appeasing local rivalries, I see!

Drake vs. Satchel Jones
We’ve got a newcomer here in the form of Satchel Jones, 3CW’s answer to Elias. He plays the guitar a little to Velvet Revolver’s “Slither” on the way to the ring, and he’s been paired with Little Miss Roxxy here.

Needless to say, Drake’s not a fan of the gimmick, and Satchel’s inexperience shows early as he hits a handspring off the ropes into a ‘rana as he takes Drake outside… and almost dives into his own valet. Drake’s able to make use of the confusion as he hits back, catching a flying crossbody and turning it into a Northern lights suplex. Jones manages to hit a tope as Drake’s taken outside, before a roundhouse puts Drake down for a near-fall. Satchel tries for the handspring ‘rana again, but this time he’s caught with a bridging German for a near-fall, following up with a brainbuster as Satchel refused to stay down.

Another ‘rana takes Drake flying off the top, before a flying double stomp gets what has to be an upset victory! This started off rough for Jones, but he recovered and got the win on his debut… although there’s a lot of polish to be done here. **

Damned Nation Rules: Dragon Aisu vs. Primate
Aisu’s out with a baseball bat, and that’s enough to convince the referee that this is now a “Damned Nation” rules match. Or “no holds barred”, or whatever you wanna call it. Still, that plays into Primate’s wheelhouse, given his work in Defiant/WCPW.

We don’t go straight into plunder, as Aisu and Primate exchange shoulder tackles before a dropkick took the former 3CW champ outside… where he uses a chair to stop a Primate dive, then drag him outside for chops and shots with… a skirting board (or a base board, for those reading in the States).

Grabbing the splintered skirting board, Aisu’s spiked with it, before he backdrops Primate into the crowd. Primate leaps back into the right side of the barriers to keep up the walk ‘n’ brawl, choking Aisu against the ropes, before wrenching away at his face in the ring. Some biting gets Aisu free as he sidesteps a charge before grabbing that skirting board…

Primate looked to tap as Aisu wrenched his shoulder in the ropes, but the match continues as Primate’s shoulder continues to be worn down, repeatedly throwing it into the ring posts. A crossface looked to tease a submission, but Primate grabs the bottom rope… and eventually powers up into a sidewalk slam. Aisu cuts Primate off again, this time grabbing a baseball bat, before he tries to duct-tape Primate to the ropes as some kids chanted “cheater” at him. I agree! With Primate helpless, Aisu grabs a home-made Singapore cane and targets the ribs with it, before setting up a couple of chairs… just as Primate tears away from the tape!

One back suplex through the chairs later, and Aisu’s down and out… but then the lights go out as the Sons of Ulaid head out. Rory Coyle and Bás Bán hit the ring… and quickly overwhelm Primate… who eventually avoids a double-team before crotching Bán with the cane. Those distractions almost cost Primate as he took a Dragon Driver for a near-fall… before countering a second one and hitting a spear for the win! Not too plunderiffic, but this told a story and was in-and-out relatively quickly, so there’s no complaints. **½

A video package for Ace Athletic follows, because their undefeated run is at risk… next! They hit the ring, with Benji in tow, and there’s a great spot of character work as Ace shrugged off “who are ya?” chants like water off a ducks’ back. Ace has a professional rugby player to add to Ace Athletic’s ranks… but unlike David Graves, this guy’s played in the Super League and has signed for WWE.

Yep, it’s Luke Menzies! Except Luke hasn’t actually signed with Ace yet, as he’s got a handmade contract ready for him. IF he passes a tryout. I think you can guess how this goes… especially once he’s shown to be unimpressed by David Graves’ amateur credentials. Ace asks Luke to catch a rugby ball five times on the bounce… and they do the Million Dollar Man shtick, with Graves intentionally spiking the ball on the fifth try, before the do-over is interrupted by Si Swan, who saves Luke from joining the “bunch of clowns”.

I think we have a tag match!

Ace Athletic (Ace Matthews & David Graves) vs. Luke Menzies & Si Swan
It started out pretty one-sided as Graves gets pancaked by Swan and Menzies, before Swan absolutely mauls Graves with some throws into the turnbuckles.

My rugby puns stop being rucking unbearable as Graves tagged out… but Ace just gets a huge dropkick before dishing out some of Si’s own medicine. Swan rebounds with a crossbody out of the corner, but a clothesline puts Si back down as Ace Athletic start to work over the veteran.

An atomic drop from Matthews gets a near-fall as Graves antagonised Menzies into the ring – tying up the referee as he continued to choke on Swan in the ropes. We’ve said it repeatedly, but Graves is a solid, under-the-radar guy who is on the verge of breaking through to the next level – and he takes the lion’s share of the offence on Swan whilst continuing to rile up Menzies.

Eventually Swan hits a double lariat to force his way back in, bringing Luke Menzies into the match to a huge roar from the Dolphin Centre. A judo throw sent Graves flying, before he reversed a double-team suplex with ease. Ace Matthews is forced to make the save from a powerslam, as Si Swan’s attempt to neutralise a double-team ends abruptly… and a simple chop block takes Menzies down hard.

Ace Matthews calls for a substitution, with Benji coming in in his place – I guess we’re under Freebird rules here? – but it just gives Menzies another body to toss around for fun, as a suplex into a powerslam on Benji seals the win! Impressive stuff from the newcomer Menzies, who has a decent look and a lot of potential to boot. **¾

Swan took the microphone and thanks the Darlington crowd afterwards, as this was apparently his first time here. It’s also his last, as he announced his retirement on December 9, saying it was time to step aside for the next generation of wrestlers.

One of those wrestlers not being Prince Ameen, who interrupted so he could have his scheduled title defence. Ameen repeats what we just heard, before demanding Swan just retired there and then, claiming that Swan’s still hurting since he faced Ameen last year. Ameen tries to get the crowd to sing the goodbye song, which they don’t go along with.

Amir Jordan heads out for his title shot next, and gets torn into by Ameen who thinks his dancing’s not good. Ameen offers to be Amir’s tag partner again, but only if he stops with the dancing, and after a spot of “Shall I?”, our regularly scheduled title match is… off? Ameen walks out with his belt, only for Si Swan to return to force Ameen into his match.

3CW North East Championship: Prince Ameen (c) vs. Amir Jordan
Swan boots Ameen, throws him in the ring… one quick roll-up, and Amir wins! Hope you didn’t blink!

Ameen’s beside himself as Amir celebrates in the crowd… and with the referee, as John Myers falls flat on his backside. It seems that bhangra’s not for everyone!

Justin Sysum vs. Matt Riddle
Billed as a “Marvel actor”, Sysum’s one of those guys on the UK scene who’s bubbling around but has yet to crack through to the next level. Perhaps this match with Matt Riddle could give him a leg up and help poke him through that glass ceiling?

We open with a respect handshake, as commentary hammered home (sorry) that Sysum was labelled the best pure athlete in British wrestling. The Hammer tried to out-grapple Riddle early, forcing him into the ropes… something he had to do pretty much straight away as Riddle tried to retaliate with a cross armbreaker, before snatching a German suplex as Sysum was put onto the back foot.

Riddle’s reliance on back sentons cost him as Sysum got his knees up, and it’s a huge comeback as the Hammer throws in Stinger splashes and Exploders to turn things in his favour. An overhead kick from Riddle’s blocked and met with a dropkick as Sysum tries to dive… and gets hit with a forearm instead. Some kicks on the apron get Riddle back in front, but Sysum leaps over Riddle’s baseball slide as he finally gets off his dive in a nice show of athleticism. A moonsault over Riddle leads to a German suplex… but you can’t German Riddle. Nor Sysum, it seems, as a Fisherman’s buster instead is used to put the Hammer down for a near-fall.

Riddle kicks out at one from a Falcon arrow after Sysum’d caught some kicks, and the Hammer’s attempt to go back to that well earns him a Bro To Sleep as the former WWN champion just lays into him with more back sentons as the result looked to be academic at this point.

An awkward belly-to-belly superplex gets Riddle down though, before the Hammer of the Gods corkscrew dropkick nearly gets the upset… but in the end, a 450 Splash saw Sysum land into a triangle armbar that he tried to escape from. A tombstone slam counters the counter, and Riddle wins! Impressive stuff from Sysum, who’s a work in progress, but much like Luke Menzies earlier, there’s a diamond waiting underneath the proverbial coal. ***

I hear you like some more big lads wrestling? The semi-main event is going to be right up your alley…

Rampage Brown vs. Keith Lee
A first-time meeting, and a real dream match here as the first PROGRESS Atlas champion comes face to face with one of the break-out stars of 2017. The Man of the Hour, you might say…

The Darlington crowd were into this from the off, with commentary noting that they’d had a few folks travel just for this match. I was *this close* to being one of them, had I not had tickets for another show first… The customary exchange of shoulder tackles early gives way to leapfrogs and lucha rolls as both men force a stalemate, and it quickly becomes a war of attrition after Lee’s caught off-guard with a Rampage dropkick. Lee replies with a shoulder tackle to knock Rampage to the outside, and it’s safe to say that those who didn’t know about Keith Lee are starting to buy in at this point.

Rampage pulls the referee into the path of an onrushing Lee, but thankfully being Limitless means you do have brakes… but it doesn’t stop Rampage from taking a shortcut to edge ahead, raking the eyes and generally being underhanded in a bid to keep Lee on the mat. The tactic works though, as Keith’s kept on his knees, but when he goes for a sleeperhold, Lee stands up and breaks free as the comeback is on!

Double-handed chops weaken Rampage, who gets tossed around the ring like he was nothing! The shows of strength continue as a Samoan drop sees Rampage counter out of a Spirit Bomb attempt, but he’s able to land it seconds later… with the Spirit Bomb getting a solid near-fall! Lee tries to add another string to the bow, going up top for a moonsault… but Rampage shoves the ref into the ropes to crotch Lee, and with the ref not waving for a DQ, Rampage hits a piledriver gets the win. A bit of an out-of-nowhere win, but the bad guy Rampage played to his strengths here and claimed a heck of a scalp here. An enthralling big lads’ match – and exactly what you’d expect from these guys too! ***¾

After the match, Ace Athletic head out to mock Keith Lee. I’m not sure that’s wise… apparently he “impr-ace-d” them enough to offer him that hand-made contract. “Keef Lee” signs the contract, but it’s a con as he just wipes out all three members of Ace Athletic, with Benji’s attempt to whack him with the clipboard earning him a press slam to the floor. Splat!

3CW Tag Team Championship: Kid Richie & Gabriel Kidd (c) vs. Sons of Ulaid (Rory Coyle & Bás Bán) vs. Rogues Gallery (Stan Kellitt & Leon Mercer) vs. Project Lucha (El Ligero & Martin Kirby)
Originally a replay of the tag team tournament finals, with the Sons of Ulaid and Project Lucha being added to the match by 3CW’s GM James R. Kennedy (who only rules via pre-tape, which is a good thing given how played-out GMs have been). The reigning champions of Kid Richie and Chris Whitton come out first, but Whitton’s not dressed to compete… he’s torn his knee ligaments, so he’s found a replacement to defend the title for him: Gabriel Kidd!

The match starts with everyone quickly spilling to the outside, since it doesn’t seem the elimination rules here is starting (at least) with the usual two in, everyone-else out format. Martin Kirby wanders into the crowd with Gabriel Kidd, whilst Kid Richie’s had to defend himself against both Sons of Ulaid. To say this is chaotic is an understatement!

Finally the match hits the ring, with Kellitt, Kidd and Kirby exchanging chops, before it boiled down to Kirby chopping away at the three relative rookies, with the Rogues Gallery and Kidd lining up for more chops. Eventually that works against Kirby as he bites off too much as everyone starts to chop back.

We quickly move to the dive portion of the match, with Ligero hitting a tope con hilo to the pile on the outside, before we build up to a suplex spot, ending when the Sons of Ulaid and the Rogues Gallery try to suplex everyone else at the same time. It’s stuff that could be seen as hackneyed on some shows, but worked real well with the audience on hand.

After all that, Gabriel Kidd pancakes Ligero, only to get caught out by Kirby who rolled him into a neckbreaker… and it looks like tags aren’t a thing here as Kid Richie hits the ring for a tiltawhirl DDT. Kidd accidentally boots Richie in the head, and the replacement partner ends up being the weak link as he falls to a Demolition-esque big splash from Project Lucha as the defending tag champs are the first team eliminated!

Project Lucha follow them to the back seconds later as Rory Coyle rolled up Kirby, so we’re down to the Sons of Ulaid and the Rogues Gallery! Coyle and Bán looked to have it handled, especially when Bán caught a splash in the corner and turned it into a slam that nearly put away Kellit. Bán and Coyle keep Kellitt isolated as they slowly wore him down, but a tag out to Mercer gave the Rogues a brief glimmer of hope… until Bán turfed Kellitt to the outside. A gutwrench on the now-legal Mercer gets a two-count, and now Mercer’s left alone for some shots in the corner, culminating in a double-team chokeslam that Mercer kicked out of.

Kellitt flies back in with a top rope elbow to break up another count as he proceeds to low-bridge Bán to the outside, before the Rogues picked up the shock win with a Hart Attack to Rory Coyle! Going from 3CW’s rookie jobbers to tag champions in a year, the Rogues Gallery complete their ascension to the top, with the former champions graciously handing over the belts afterwards.

The four-way was a little scrappy, with the intended “rematch the semi-finalists in a four-way” thing seemingly getting thrown out when half of the teams were knocked out within seconds of each other. Either way, this was a main event that was more about the story than the match… but the question now stands: how in God’s name does a team that’s only won two matches in 3CW keep hold of the titles?! ***

With a mixture of fresh faces and some established names, 3CW continues to be one of those groups that operates “just under the radar”… but this year’s Encore show is one that you should check out, if only for the glimpses of the likes of Justin Sysum and Luke Menzies… oh, and that Keith Lee vs. Rampage Brown match, that really needs to be seen by more eyeballs!