You know what we’ve not watched? Combat Zone Wrestling. They’ve got a new venue and a new booking team… so no time like the present, eh?

The intro video’s led by Maxwell Jacob Friedman, who came into this as CZW’s Wired champion. He leads into a package highlighting CZW’s various facets – and it’s more than the blood and guts that they’ve been associated with in the past. The show’s called the Wolf of Wrestling, and I guess someone finally got around to watching that Leo di Caprio movie from four years ago? So much so that we get a few slips in commentary. Hopefully Paramount’s lawyers aren’t watching!

CZW’s apparently in a new venue – the Rastellis Complex in Sewell, NJ – and they’re still using that same old intro song! Among the weird quirks in that venue is the video screen, which seemed to literally be a bed sheet with a projector on it. If it works, it works I guess.

David Starr vs. Kit Osbourne
Osbourne’s a CZW trainee, and the story here seems to be that Starr was taking this as a “demotion” to the opening match. Starr didn’t explode with rage or anything like that at the start, rather picking his shots as Osbourne connected with a few kicks early… and before we can even break a sweat, Osbourne hits a sunset flip and there’s the pin! Not much of a match, but the story here wasn’t even “David Starr took Kit too lightly” it was just “nothing’s going right for him”.

After the match, air raid sirens ring around the venue as the Wolf of Wrestling smiley face logo appears on the screen. Hallowe’en comes early as some guy in a mask heads through the crowd to the ring, and offers another mask to Osbourne. Commentary all but says it’s Joe Gacy, who was “released from his CZW contract”. Osbourne throws down the mask, and gets beaten down, like you always do in wrestling when you turn down an offer. It gets worse as a gang of masked guys abduct Osbourne, and we cut away…

Johnny Silver vs. Trey Miguel vs. Space Monkey vs. JT Dunn
Yep, Johnny Silver is the same John Silver as we’ve seen in Beyond. For some reason CZW don’t seem to believe in nameplates or any other form of on-screen graphics. At least I can kinda guess that the guy in an orange jumpsuit and a furry mask is Space Monkey!

This started off slow with all four men in the ring, but it quickly hit formula. Space Monkey moves well for a guy with a long tail tied to his gear, as did Miguel, who hit a step-up tope con hilo as the match quickly entered dive territory. Problem is, whilst the dives were fine, a lot of the set-up felt really contrived.

There’s a neat double superplex from Silver, who gets taken out with a flip dive from Space Monkey, before we go back to the meticulous pace. Space Monkey flips for a top rope moonsault, despite not being touched, and the crowd boos that. Well, there is the whole air of believability issue… Speaking of believability, there’s a cool spot where Dunn had Monkey and Miguel in a double Samoan drop… only for Johnny Silver to just give that whole pile up a German suplex, as the pace picked up into a Parade of Strikes, ending with a trio of superkicks to Dunn.

Everyone hits Ace Crusher variants, and then it’s time for the apron as Dunn killed Miguel with an apron tombstone… but that’s not the finish, as Josh Briggs comes in to kill Silver with a chokeslam backbreaker. He then holds Space Monkey, allowing Dunn to hit the Death By Elbow (rolling elbow) for the win. This was okay, but a lot of this felt contrived in places. **¾

Ace Austin vs. Matthew Palmer
I’m not sure if you can make out Ace’s entrance video, but that’s… something special.

Apparently Austin’s full name is Ace Austin Shakespeare (CZW drop the Shakespeare bit when they announce him, but they’ve not quite updated everything else yet). He comes out to a rock version of the Game of Thrones music, which is a thing. It seems Ace has an open challenge, and it’s answered by the unidentified Matthew Palmer, who we’ve seen on some Style Battles before. Yes, this is an upgrade for him.

The crowd begs “who are you?” to Palmer, who instantly traps Austin in a Sharpshooter for the submission. We’re 2-for-3 on squashes, which is one way of creating a buzz.

After the match Palmer headbutts the ref, and then heads to the back as commentary still doesn’t give him a name.

CZW Championship: Ethan Page vs. Shane Strickland (c)
It’s life after EVOLVE for Ethan Page, as the self-styled Hottest Free Agent somehow talked his way into a title shot. Strickland’s not using “Ain’t Nobody” for his entrance here, which is a touch jarring given how much everyone likes (badly) singing along to it…

Strickland has Page on the back foot early, wiping him out with a Space Flying Tiger Drop, before using the ring steps to work over Page’s hands. That’s a mighty specific body part to be working on, unless you’re facing Marty Scurll… Page breaks free and hits a draping DDT off the crowd barriers, but back inside things go more even as Strickland seemed to hurriedly be going for pinning attempts.

Curiously, Page broke out a Strickland-esque diving leg kick for a near-fall, but the challenger enjoyed a long spell on top before Strickland burst back into life, culminating with a DDT out of the corner, then a double stomp off the top after Page had been trapped in the ropes. Page kicked out from that and headed onto the apron, and we all know nothing bad ever happens there. Like Swerve getting slammed onto there…

Another slam off the top rope leads to… a senton bomb from Ethan Page?! What the hell is it with guys leaving EVOLVE and bringing new stuff to their game? In the end though, Page’s high-impact stuff didn’t get the job done, as a single kick to the head was enough to knock him out as Swerve got the pin. Pretty good stuff, although this CZW crowd has largely been sat on their hands… some promising stuff from Ethan Page, who’ll be breaking new ground away from the WWN stable of promotions. ***½

After the match, Strickland demanded a handshake from Page for saying that he’d “failed a generation”. I guess someone was mad at his tweets. Of course, All Ego didn’t shake anything, and just flipped him off instead.

The masked guys from earlier return with Kit Osbourne, who’s meant to have been beaten and bloodied. Shane Strickland just watches on in shock in the aisle as Osbourne’s dragged into the ring and threatened with a curbstomp onto a chair. That siren’s more annoying than the Prestige’s old music. Presumably Joe Gacy has eyes on Shane Strickland, who’s being held back by those goons, but he calls out Matt Tremont.

Of course, Tremont happily comes out, and gets the threat: reinstate Gacy and give him a title shot, or Osbourne dies. Some shouty exchanges later, Strickland accepts… the title shot’s for the next show. Yeah, they kill Kit anyway. Heels! It gets worse, as the real Joe Gacy comes out, attacking Tremont from behind and throwing him into the ringsteps. So who was the CZW Shockmaster who mimed for Gacy earlier?

Nevertheless, those goons unmask, and the segment ends with Strickland being held in the ropes as Gacy spray-paints the smiley face onto his chest.

Ace Romero vs. Greg Excellent
We last saw Ace on a pre-show match for Beyond, where he was thrown into God knows how many thumbtacks. Here he was due to wrestle Greg Excellent, but Greg attacked him from behind with a chair and beats him around ringside. Romero throws a chair right back at him, and the beating continues rather slowly until security come out to try and separate them. This seemed to be missing any kind of intensity, but what can you do? It’s clearly building to a bigger match, and we’re 3-for-5 in short-or-no matches tonight!

CZW Rules: Rickey Shane Page vs. Alex Colon vs. Mr. Claxton vs. Brandon Kirk
Another four-way eh? Mr. Claxton is the former Connor Claxton, who has flipped between names as of late. I kinda wanna get hold of something with his El Wrencho gimmick, but this one where he’s trying to escape the shackles of deathmatches has some intrigue.

Kirk “took the spot” of Jimmy Lloyd, whom he dragged out all bloodied with barbed wire around his neck. Instead, Brandon cuts a pipe-bomb-ish promo about grabbing opportunities, and this is repeating a motif we already had with Joe Gacy and his masked guys.

Anyway, we get going when Kirk comes in with a chair – prompting Claxton to leave the ring as he wants to wrestle, not use weapons. Rickey Shane Page has no issue with weapons, as you’d expect, and he quickly grabs the cinder block Kirk had brought to the ring… and DDTs him onto it. It’s quickly becoming the story of “I wanna wrestle, not do death matches” for Claxton, which is something I can get behind. Folks trying to evolve and all that.

As a match though, it comes across as some of those CZW stereotypes – weapons shots in place of a match. So if you like blood and Hardcore matches that are more than just using baking trays, this is for you. For me though, there was a lot of “do a move, look to see if someone’s ready to get involved, make a cover, oh-look, it’s broken up” series, which kinda made things look a little off.

Chairs come into play, with Page slamming Colon onto a fallen-but-opened-up chair for a near-fall, before he puts two opened chairs onto the top of each other. Colon’s put onto that pile, but he rolls away as Kirk superplexes Page into them instead. That could have gone so much worse, especially as one of the chairs moved away before impact.

Colon grabs a bucket to add to the plunder, but he’s suplexed onto it by Kirk for a near-fall as everyone but Claxton continues to wage war. In the end, they pretty much kill each other, with Colon giving Kirk a Spanish Fly onto Page on a table… and with everyone down, Claxton comes in to steal the pin, covering Kirk for the win. Hey, an easy day’s work if you can get it! A better than average plunder match, but for the character progression alone, I loved this. ***

The Carnies (Kerry Awful & Nick Iggy) vs. The Storm of Entrails (Dan O’Hare & SHLAK) vs. The Hooligans (Devin Cutter & Mason Cutter)
Another multi-way match?! This was the CZW debut of the Carnies, a team that seems to be pretty Marmite – if you watch them, most people seem to be firmly on one side of the love/hate divide. I’ve not seen enough of them, so I’ll remain ambivalent. The Carnies wanted OI4K, but instead the Storm of Entrails come out with a barbed wire board, who in turn are jumped by the Hooligans…

Yes, it’s one of those “pandemonium!” matches, full of brawling around the ringside area, and I think SHLAK got bloodied in the opening moments as the Hooligans and the Carnies fought around the ring, prompting commentary to just throw their hands up and admit defeat here. SHLAK props two tables between the apron and the guard rails, and he quickly charges half of each other team onto them as he then press slams O’Hare through them and the tables.

Oof.

In the ring, SHLAK gets slammed into his barbed wire boards by the Hooligans, who then sandwich him in the wood and wire before leaping onto them. Sounds about right. O’Hare – with the referee helping him – puts one of those barbed wire boards across some chairs after SHLAK had unhooked himself. Wrestling Logic returns as O’Hare then gets superplexed by the Carnies into the board… except he barely clipped it and the crowd booed. It’s been a rough night for this kinda stuff.

Kerry Awful then cannonballed himself into the barbed wire board that’d been propped into the ropes so he could put O’Hare through it. SHLAK’s back and grabs some chairs as we all sit down for a bar fight that looked more like an AA meeting at the start. “My name is Ian, and I watch way too much wrestling that I should probably skip over…”

The crowd actively boos as everyone slowly punches the person to their right, and it says a lot when this crowd is booing. Things pick up after SHLAK tries to suffocate someone, and we move into “slams onto chairs” territory to stop the booing. SHLAK almost went for an Olympic slam, but instead just threw Awful into a barbed wire board with a German suplex before the Hooligans hit some chair-assisted slams.

The Carnies continue to get booed, and it’s a knee drop from Iggy as one of the Hooligans was in a Boston crab that does the job as the ref stops the match. It takes something special to do a weapons/plunder match in CZW and get booed. Well done lads. *½

I think we know what side of the love/hate divide the Combat Zone crowd fall with the Carnies.

For our the main event we had a “Celebration of Maxwell”. It’s the CZW Wired champion Maxwell Jacob Friedman, whose act I can pretty much sum up as a millennial Alberto del Rio. When he was obnoxious with a scarf, that is. As for the celebration, it was just MJF being a prick, but you knew that this being the main event was a giveaway.

Nobody’s daft enough to end a main show with an “appreciation night” ceremony. Friedman invites Penelope Ford to the ring, and if you know her work from elsewhere, you can probably guess where this is going. Maxwell is about to propose to her, but were interrupted by old video footage of young MJF, which bleeds into the arrival of a Bad Boy – it’s Joey Janela!

Janela lit up Friedman with punches, before giving him a German suplex into the corner. It continues on the outside, and I don’t think this is a match… not yet anyway, as Janela buries Friedman under a sea of chairs, like a loosely-inspired-by-ECW thing. At least the fans were more than willing to give Joey their chairs – it shows how much they dislike MJF!

CZW Wired Championship: Maxwell Jacob Friedman (c) vs. Joey Janela
Somewhere in here a referee came out, just as Joey tried to strip Friedman in the ring. I guess this is a match now? Janela whipped MJF with his own belt, and this is pretty much an evisceration rather than a celebration.

Friedman sold everything well, screaming in pain to give the crowd something to cheer for as they finally saw someone get their comeuppance. Joey threatens to kill MJF in front of “Regal and Triple H”, so I’m guessing MJF was planning on going to WWE on the back of this? Storyline-wise anyway. Penelope Ford, who had a past with Janela in CZW, grabs his leg as he hit the ropes, trying to stop the beatdown. The distraction allowed MJF to chop block the knee, and the tables turn from there, with Friedman using a chair on Janela’s leg… and getting a one-count from it. That may have been the first pinfall attempt in this impromptu match.

Friedman targets the leg, using a single-leg crab, but Janela gets free and makes a comeback, landing a superkick, only for Penelope to return with some weaponry: a load of taped together light tubes. Yup, Joey takes it to the head, but he’s quickly back to his feet, dropping MJF with a package piledriver for a near-fall. A crossface follows straight after the kick-out… and Friedman taps! We have a new Wired Champion as the Celebration of Maxwell turned sour.

As a match… I have a feeling I’d appreciate this more with a better knowledge of CZW storylines. Then again, the crowd in Sewell didn’t respond in kind either, so it’s hard to judge. Bell to bell it was fine, but not much more than that. ***

After the match, Joey plants a kiss on Penelope, then dives into the crowd to celebrate as the show went off the air…

Aside from the Tournament of Death (which I’ve seen in passing), this was my first exposure to CZW for a long long time. I don’t know if this was a “bad show” to pick, but this wasn’t my cup of tea. It was a real mixed bag with good storyline-related stuff, and CZW-style Ultraviolent matches that didn’t float my boat.

From the eight-match card, three of them were either squashes or just didn’t happen at all – and it’s not like that was the only feature that repeated on the show. As for the five matches we did get, those were mixed too: average at best, and really bad at worst. Maybe it’s the new venue, but the crowd didn’t react much, and that’s perhaps a cardinal sin. I’m not expecting every crowd to be hot, but when “polite applause” is the most that can be mustered, then something’s badly wrong.