A new year led to a swift turnaround for 3CW, as their opening show of 2018 was quickly posted to their on-demand… with a banger of a match involving Keith Lee neatly tucked away!

Sweeping shots of the Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough lead the show-opening video, which featured how the Rogues Gallery lost their 3CW tag titles to the expanded Dormo Dynasty, before we’re taken to ringside for the pre-show stuff. We’ve got Stevie Aaron and Tom Campbell on commentary – Campbell’s been doing commentary for NORTH Wrestling just up the road, so he’s more than just a “local radio host dragged into the picture”. Oh, he also did commentary for the Big ‘un in Wigan, if you remember that…

Tonight’s main event is a tag team match with Alex Gracie and Joseph Conners teaming against Rampage Brown and Nathan Cruz…

Elimination Rules: El Ligero vs. Dragon Aisu vs. Martin Kirby
This is part of the Championship Contender’s series, which hasn’t quite been explained to us yet. Tom Campbell’s doing live commentary, which explains how this got turned around so quickly.

There’s something so… wacky about how nonchalantly Stevie Aaron announces Dragon Aisu as being from “hell”. Aisu’s flanked by the Sons of Ulaid – Rory Coyle and Bás Bán – which apparently changes the game up until they announce that this is no longer a triple-threat outing. Aisu tries to get everyone to play to the crowd, with expected results as the crowd boo Aisu, before Ligero just watches as Aisu knocks Kirby off the top rope to the outside. For some reason, there’s a mirror clearly visible in the entry-way, as someone’s not quite closed the curtain…

The series between Ligero and Kirby’s pretty flippy and fast-paced, and quickly takes us to some indyriffic near-falls as they reverse around a sunset flip before they square off… and get bulled down by Aisu. Ligero’s taken outside as the Sons of Ulaid stand over him, while Aisu gets a near-fall in the ring with a nice Mr Perfect-esque neck flip on Kirby. A hanging vertical suplex takes Kirby down for a two-count, before Aisu falls for the “stop!” enziguiri.

The Sons of Ulaid are wiped out with a somersault plancha from Kirby, which leaves Ligero in there with Aisu, and his chest is lit up with chops a-plenty, only for him to reply with a boot and a gamengiri in the corner. Ligero’s slingshot Ace crusher sets him up for a Mexican Wave… and that’s Aisu eliminated!

Well, so much for the Sons of Ulaid being a threat!

We’re down to Ligero and Kirby, with the former eating a Slingblade for a near-fall as Kirby fought his way in, before a wheelbarrow facebuster gets Ligs a near-fall. Another Mexican Wave looks to follow, but Kirby lifts his knees up before hitting a fireman’s carry facebuster as he looked for the Sable Bomb… connecting with it for the win! This was a breeze to watch – in spite of the fact it was two matches rolled into one. Good stuff to kick off the show! ***

We’ve got a to-camera piece as Tom and Stevie run through the main event… and then we get a video package detailing the issues between Amir Jordan and Ace Athletic.

Ace Athletic Lumberjack Match for 3CW North East Championship: Ace Matthews vs. Amir Jordan (c)
Amir Jordan’s battle against the odds continue with this lumberjack match – a step up from last month’s lopsided effort which saw Prince Ameen reluctantly count the pin. Ace Athletic have new music, which adds to the obnoxious aspect of Ace’s character.

He’s still messing up town names, although Cardiff and Middlesbrough aren’t quite rivals… perhaps “Brighton” would have been more topical and touchy?

Your lumberjacks are Benji the Waterboy and David Graves, along with Prince Ameen. Stevie Aaron calls shenanigans, and so we get another lumberjack in the form of the debuting Dara Diablo, who’s been “bought off” as he gets his pay packet in the middle of the ring.

Ace starts off by grabbing a wrist, while Jordan just wants to throw fists, before he rolls under an Ace leapfrog as the champion starts to flip a little! Matthews lifts Amir onto the apron, which is the cue for Dara Diablo to get involved, pulling Amir to the outside as we get our first mugging.

With Amir thrown back inside, Matthews grabs a near-fall with a sliding lariat, before throwing Jordan outside again for more muggings. All of a sudden, Prince Ameen breaks free and throws Amir back in as he tried to stop the beatdown, and we’re washing, rinsing and repeating as Jordan keeps getting thrown outside… with Ameen “doing the right thing”, much to the chagrin of Ace Athletic.

Back inside again, Jordan mounts a comeback, this time shoving away Dara Diablo before rolling into the ring for a neckbreaker! Ace rolls outside for a breather, and gets dropkicked into his buddies as Jordan decides to go flying with a crossbody into the pile, who sandwich him on landing! All of a sudden, we get the substitution gimmick, but Benji swings and misses with the water bucket, and falls to an Ace crusher as Amir picks up the win! Somehow, Ace Matthews keeps his unbeaten run alive, and this wasn’t too bad a match – by the numbers a little, but I liked how they established Amir’s peril and how Ace Athletic again bumble their way to defeat. **¾

After the match, Amir’s surrounded by Ace Athletic, but Luke Menzies makes the save! Apparently Menzies was meant to have faced Primate on this show, but Primate was out with a fractured jaw. Menzies chases Ace Athletic away, as Ameen grabs away Amir’s North East title again, only to put it around his waist as Amir tries to coax him into dancing… we’re still waiting!

After another to-camera bit, Luke Menzies is back out with David Graves in tow – and we have an impromptu match!

Luke Menzies vs. David Graves
Graves clubbed away at Menzies at the bell, as the battle of rugby league vs. union got going in earnest… but as soon as Graves went for shoulder tackles, he was found wanting as he just bounced off of Menzies.

A hiptoss from Menzies is followed up by a release slam after Graves’ crossbody was caught with ease… but the Grafter manages to mount a comeback, charging Menzies into the ropes as he fought away a German suplex. Some shoulder charges in the corner left Menzies rocked, before Menzies shoves Graves into the referee… who for once went down believably! Graves looked to get a cover, but the ref’s unable to make the count as we get a… substitute? Ace Matthews is out in a striped jersey to replace the official, but Menzies is quickly back in front with some belly to belly suplexes and a tiltawhirl slam as Ace goes into a deliberately slow count.

Of course, Menzies confronts Ace, before he reverses a suplex… but Ace pulls Graves down before “missing” a bucket shot. Benji hits Menzies with it again in full view of the ref as Graves followed up with a spear for a super-quick three-count. Menzies gets screwed, and Ace Athletic scarper before Menzies kills them. Decent enough, but the substitute gimmick perhaps didn’t need to be used in back-to-back matches… **½

Later tonight, we’ve got Justin Sysum vs. Keith Lee… holy hell! Mike Groom knows Keith’s theme music too… but he doesn’t sing about soldiers and warriors in here.

A video package follows that recaps the Dormo Dynasty – from Chris Whitton’s injury, him giving over the tag titles, all the way to Gabriel Kidd losing them and the expansion of the group, with Si Swan’s faked retirement.

Dormo Dynasty (Chris Whitton, Kid Richie & Si Swan) vs. Rogues Gallery (Stan Kellitt & Leon Mercer) & Gabriel Kidd
Trios action now, featuring Swan who had “renounced his retirement” and the rest of the Dormo Dynasty, as the local lads were in the odd position of being booed in what was near-enough their hometown.

Stevie Aaron’s back on commentary after Mike Groom swapped out for the Ace Athletic stuff, and the Dormo Dynasty are well and truly antagonising everyone. Richie and Mercer start off, with the latter catching superkicks before landing an enziguiri… followed by a double suplex to Si Swan – who’s flat out compared to Terry Funk on commentary – with the help of Stan Kellitt.

Stevie Aaron loses his mind on commentary over Chris Whitton’s knee injury, but we get the “sorry, we’re live pal” treatment to “Psycho Stevie” as Gabriel Kidd hits the ring and blasts Richie with a lariat. A slam gets Kidd a near-fall, before Mercer’s back in to hit a neckbreaker… then knock Swan off the apron. The distraction from Si leads to Richie hitting a superkick on Mercer for a near-fall as we all learn that Stevie Aaron used to wrestle?! Mind. Blown.

Mercer misses a dropkick off the middle rope as Whitton takes over, putting the youngster in the corner as Si Swan came in to choke away in the corner. Gabriel Kidd tries to get the ref’s attention, but it just leads to standard bad guy tactics with fake tags and the like, before some double-teaming sees Mercer get stacked up and squashed with a back senton for another near-fall.

Eventually the referee stops the bad guy abdominal stretch, kicking away some sneaky help as Mercer’s able to hiptoss free, and finally tag in Stan Kellitt! It’s a hot tag from Stan, who clears the apron before dumping Richie with a STO… only for Swan to break up the pin and toss him into the ring post. They tease a powerbomb through the announce table from Swan, but Kidd breaks it up with a tope as those two end up chopping their way to the back.

With the referee distracted, Chris Whitton picks up a baseball bat, and uses it on the gut and back of Mercer and Kellitt… just in time for the referee to return to count the pin. Hey, it makes a change for the underhanded tactics to be the finish, rather than a near-fall – especially since the Dormo Dynasty were up against relative rookies. Good stuff in terms of the storyline! **¾

Leon Mercer takes the mic after the match and berates Whitton and Richie for their tactics – before telling them that that their rematch on February 24 in Darlington will be a streetfight for the tag titles… except Whitton and Richie claim they’re going on holiday then. I guess they’re cancelling their cruise, because the match is on… as were some rather dubious language choices!

Justin Sysum vs. Keith Lee
Oh good Lord, this one stands out like a sore thumb for fans of a certain ilk.

We start with a tie-up, as Sysum and Lee try to over-power the other… but it’s the Limitless one who draws first blood. There’s more of the same as Lee picks up Sysum out of a headlock, before leaping over him as Sysum was left pretty speechless… although he does return the favour with a leapfrog and dropkick of his own as Lee was sent scurrying to the outside.

Sysum follows up with a faked out dive, but he’s clipped onto the apron as a massive Pounce from Lee sent the Hammer into the commentary table! Lee tries to take a count-out from that, but Sysum returns and charges into Lee in the corner… only to get caught and sent flying with a release overhead belly-to-belly. Yup. Keith be strong! Some stomps follow in the corner, as do forearms before a Sysum fightback’s brought to an end with a vicious elbow.

Lee keeps up on Sysum with a HUGE Beel throw out of the corner, before the double handed chop knocked the wind out of the Hammer. A second one misses as Sysum escapes for another comeback, charging into Lee with elbows and Stinger splashes, before being pushed away from an Exploder suplex attempt. Sysum’s sent outside again, but Lee gives him a chance to get a breather… which turned into Sysum teasing a walk out as the crowd booed his departure. Keith Lee takes the crowd’s chants as Sysum eventually returned, charging with a leaping spear from the floor through the ropes, then a 450 Splash as that last bit of fire almost got him the win!

A superkick gets Sysum another near-fall, but you sensed that was his only chance, and as soon as Lee catches him with a massive one-handed spinebuster, the comeback was all over. The pair trade strikes from there, but Lee’s elbow crumpled Sysum back to the mat, before a pop-up rolling elbow finally knocked Justin into the ropes… but not before he delivered an elbow of his own!

Another series of strikes from Sysum lead to him taking Lee into the corner for a dropkick and an eventual Exploder, but those blows just end up angering Lee, who hits back in kind before going for the double-handed chop. The Spirit Bomb follows, bouncing Sysum off the mat, but he still kicks out at two!

Lee tries to put the exclamation mark on it with a moonsault, but Sysum catches him in the ropes and powerbombs him down. Despite that, Lee’s straight back with a massive lariat for another near-fall… before a Ground Zero’s flipped out of as Sysum nails a corkscrew forearm that would have won the match, had Lee not been so close to the ropes. A second attempt of the Hammer of the Gods is blocked, leading to Lee missing a second Pounce as Sysum nails a German suplex?!

He holds on, and rolls into a second German, but Lee grabs onto the ropes, only for a strait-jacket German to be forced as Sysum somehow got him up a third time! Holy hell that’s strength! There’s more of that where that came from as Sysum lifted up Lee in a fireman’s carry ahead of yet another German suplex, but Lee quickly retaliates with Ground Zero as Middlesbrough witnessed an unholy big lads’ war! Well worth going out of your way to see – a good quarter of an hour of two big lads just laying it into each other with no remorse! ****

Kingdom of Catch (Sammii Jayne & Kings of Catch (Lewis Girvan & Aspen Faith) vs. Little Miss Roxxy, HT Drake & Satchel Jones
Our second trios match of the day is our semi-main event, coming after the events from The Fight(s) Before Christmas, when Little Miss Roxxy was getting beaten down by Sammii Jayne and the Kings of Catch, only to be saved by Drake and Satchel Jones.

Yeah, hearing Kay Lee Ray’s theme being used when she’s not even in the same continent is a little jarring.

Drake’s got his initials back, so I guess he’s a confirmed good guy again, while Satchel Jones’ fan club arrived just in time in Middlesbrough!

Roxxy and Sammii open the match, with the pair trading wristlocks in the opening moments, before we move into shoulder blocks, with Roxxy eventually hitting a headscissor takedown as tags bring in Jones and Faith to continue the slug-out. A missile dropkick to a sitting Faith gets Satchel a two-count, before a missile dropkick to a rope-hung Faith from Drake almost ended it.

Faith quickly rolls over to tag in Girvan, who eats a bunch of hiptosses before Satchel comes in to land a double Fisherman’s suplex for another near-fall. Sammii provides a distraction as Drake gets cornered by all three members of the Kingdom, as the intergender-ish rules allowed Sammii to come in for a few forearms. Tags out bring in Jones and Girvan… Satchel lands a ‘rana to Lewis, but he misses a dropkick as the Scots tried to take over… lifting Satchel onto the apron for a superkick out of nowhere from Faith! Girvan keeps up with a kick to the head as Satchel’s quickly isolated again, and grounded with an abdominal stretch far away from a tag.

There’s odd shots of the commentary team during the match as Jones tried to fight back, but Satchel eventually rolls through and tags in Roxxy… who was sort of already in the ring, but who cares? Satellite DDTs and big boots for all from Roxxy, before a backdrop suplex nearly puts away Sammii, and the ring fills up as referee Sean McLaughlin lost all control, watching on helplessly as all six participants were left laying.

Drake and Jones run into a pair of superkicks as Roxxy tries to fight back, but she gets lifted up into a triple powerbomb by Sammii for a near-fall as the Shield bomb doesn’t get the job done. They try it again, but Roxxy counters into a double DDT before the favour’s returned somewhat, with Roxxy getting a Code Red amongst a pair of powerbombs for a near-fall.

The Kingdom recovers though, only to get low bridged to the outside by Roxxy, as Sammii throws her outside too… but her follow-up tope crashes and burns as everyone dives to the floor! Back inside Drake and Jones head up top, but Sammii shakes the rope to crotch them as the Kings of Catch hit duelling tombstones before Roxxy returns to the fray to set up for a back cracker to Girvan… only for Jayne to hit a Samoan Driver out of nowhere for the win. A frantic finish, but this was quite enjoyable fare – although quite where you go from here when there’s literally no other established (and healthy) women in 3CW remains to be seen! ***¼

A video package follows for the main event, which was billed as a tag team match with “championship implications”. They weren’t wrong…

Mass Hysteria Match for 3CW Championship: Nathan Cruz & Rampage Brown vs. Alex Gracie (c) & Joseph Conners
Curiously, Nathan Cruz is back to using his “Showstealer” theme here – whatever happened to him ditching all that in favour of being the “Professional”? That was definitely a better theme song, as opposed to the knock-off of a knock-off of Disturbed…

After all four men were introduced, the “Mass Hysteria” part was thrown in courtesy of a pre-taped message from James R. Kennedy… who announced that next month Alex Gracie would be defending the title against Rampage. If he can get past this curveball – this tag match is for the 3CW title, with Gracie losing the title unless he gets the fall. A nice twist, if not a little too convoluted, especially when they threw in that if Cruz and Rampage lost here, then Rampage loses his title match next month.

Yeah, that took me a few listens to fully get the stipulations – although them leaving out “what happens if Conners gets the pin” made it a little fishy.

Rampage and Conners start out as commentary wax lyrical over the stipulation, as we keep things pretty straightforward as Rampage, then Cruz, worked over Conners’ wrist. Cruz tries to work over the head of Cruz, before catching a leapfrog attempt and instead rolling Cruz up for a near-fall with a wacky lucha roll-up. Alex Gracie’s in next to keep up the work on Cruz’s arm, before a La Magistral cradle ended in the ropes as Rampage and Cruz turned things around as they began to wear down on the 3CW champion. A quick tag out from Gracie keeps things moving along swiftly, as neither pairing seemed to be able to hold much momentum.

Rampage tries to low-bridge Gracie to the outside, but Alex instead headbutts the rope as the champion started to be placed on the back foot, with Rampage slowly racking up those near-falls as Gracie was kept in the wrong corner. Eventually Gracie’s able to make the tag out as Joseph Conners cleared house on Rampage with a powerslam after a leapfrog, before a sidewalk slam led to all four men entering the ring for back-and-forth shots.

Rampage and Cruz powder to the outside to regroup, and it sort-of works as Rampage manages to sneak back in to start throwing right hands on Conners after Conners and Gracie’s attempt to fend off their opponents backfired badly. That put Cruz and Rampage back in control, although there’s little dissension between Rampage and Cruz when the pair get near-falls… and the other don’t break it up. Man, that’s refreshing to see.

Conners gets a big back body drop on Rampage… but Cruz has gotten around to the corner just in time to pull Gracie off the apron as the bad guys stayed in control. There’s so many back body drops here I’m starting to get a little thankful I’m not clipping the calls for a montage!

Conners stays in the ring for a long spell, but almost nicks the win with a jack-knife cradle, only for him to get taken back into the wrong corner for some face-washing boots. An X-Factor-like facebuster gets Conners back in it, and he finally makes the hot tag to Gracie, who clears house with knees and Stinger splashes to Cruz. The sliding side slam gets Gracie a near-fall, but Rampage breaks up the cover before he’s forced to fight out of a piledriver, and counter a double suplex into a pair of backbreakers.

Gracie quickly tags Conners back in – perhaps too quickly – as Conners gets lifted to the outside, only to get knocked down by an errant strike from Gracie as Cruz looked to get the win with the Show Stolen… but Cruz was covering the wrong man! Conners returns with a slingshot DDT to try and capitalise as he was the legal man, but Rampage gets in a blind tag as Cruz was getting set up for a crucifix bomb, and we’re getting into the home straight here.

Conners again gets the tag out to Gracie, who plants Rampage with Eat Defeat for a two-count, before landing a jawbreaker to Cruz… but the numbers game looked to play a part again as Gracie took a huge clothesline to the back for a near-fall as the champion was having to fend off two men at the same time. The 3CW title belt comes into play, but referee John Myers disarms Rampage as Gracie continued his fightback, landing the Fall From Gracie… only for Nathan Cruz to pull the referee out just in time!

With the referee outside, the shock follows as Conners whacked Gracie with the title belt, before placing Rampage over him for the easy pin… Rampage wins the fall and is your new 3CW champion! Well… that was some hectic fun, although the logical part of my head is currently blowing up. ***½

Why would Joseph Conners take a beating for the entire match if he was in on it all along? Apparently Conners figured out that Gracie meant absolutely nothing during the match, so his change of heart led to the formation of the “most under-rated, under-appreciated group of wrestlers” on the scene. Well then!

3CW’s shift to live commentary has really changed the optics of their product – sure, it’s opened the door for some perhaps cliched stuff like to-camera pieces for the VOD market, but I’m all for anything that speeds up turnaround, especially when there’s buzz-worthy matches on tap.

As for the show, well the storylines in play are really solid – and although the in-ring surrounding the tag title feud isn’t the best, the storyline is really engrossing… as is the fall-out from Alex Gracie’s shock title loss. Yeah, I’d have prefered it had these two teams been established a little more – Conners and Gracie at least worked together during the cage match last month, while the Rampage and Cruz pairing was thrown together for the show.

But let’s be honest, if you’re the kind of person who’s digging into results from smaller indys, you’re probably here for the Sysum/Lee match… and man, did that deliver!