OTT’s first Contenders show of the year was a real conundrum – would LJ Cleary get the title shot he asked for for Christmas?

We’re at the Ringside Club in Dublin, and we open up backstage as Captain Sexsea’s bragging about having an Open Canvas match “against an absolute jobber. Fabulous Nicky’s more concerned about the money they need to raise than the win. Commentary’s from Aonghous og McAnally and Tony Kelly, as always.

Captain Sexsea vs. Thiago Montero
Sexsea’s got Right Said Fred for his singles music, and his rip-off trousers end up stuck in the lights. Oh boy! Montero’s slowly creeping up the ladder in the Euro indies, having appeared in PROGRESS and wXw’s co-promoted shows with APC in France.

Sexsea starts by clamping on a headlock before he rolled Montero for a PK… and opted to thrust into him instead. Montero escapes a headlock, knocking Sexsea’s cap off before thrusting his way… so it’s time for Sexsea to get out a gauntlet. Except Montero blocks the slap, and throws the glove back at Sexsea’s head. He’s done his homework. Sexsea gets serious but runs into a pancake from Montero, only for Sexsea to come back with a knee to the gut. From there, Sexsea stretches out Montero, but he’s taking it way too easy, following up with stomps before Montero began to fire back with clotheslines and head kicks. A pop-up knee and a back suplex has Sexsea down, as did a running European uppercut, before Aidan provided a distraction.

Except Nicky “capitalised” by cracking an oar over his head by mistake, before Montero had to kick-out of a cheeky roll-up. The sailor’s come in too, as they’re clotheslined off the apron by Montero, but Sexsea’s able to use the numbers game… until he cracked his head off a light fixture doing a top rope elbow, missing the landing, allowing Montero to pick up the pieces. Oh dear Sexsea – but a solid debut win for Montero here. **½

Sammy D vs. Justin Daniels
Sammy’s really leaning into the “snake” persona… then teases another snake with some Val Venis-like hip swivels.

Sammy jumps Daniels before the bell, putting the boots to him before Daniels rolled Sammy away as he took him into the corner for some strikes. Daniels nearly slips on the apron as he launches back in… and suckers Sammy in for a dropkick that misses as he was proving to be a step ahead of the veteran. An enziguiri takes Sammy outside, but he’s right in with a back elbow before a snap suplex dumped Justin for a near-fall. Daniels is kept grounded with a side headlock, as it’s all one-way traffic for a little while with Sammy wearing down his young foe. A shock Michinoku driver from Daniels almost gets the upset, before a shotgun dropkick took Sammy outside for a tope.

Back inside, a leg lariat decks Sammy, but it’s not enough as Sammy’s able to come back, dropping Justin on the top rope before hurling him into the corner. That looked nasty, before a pumphandle ushigoroshi and a Dragon sleeper forced the stoppage. A vicious finishing stretch from Sammy, who needed Justy to rush out to stop him, but there’s plenty of promise in young Justin Daniels. Keep that name in your minds. **¾

Calum Black vs. Paddy M
Calum was the odd one out in the fan voting for “who can kill B Cool?”, so he gets another reward: a match against a stalwart of the Irish scene.

Paddy’s forced to try and get some extra leverage to try and push out of an early side headlock, eventually taking out Calum’s knee… but the headlock stayed true! Eventually a cartwheel gets Paddy free, but a front facelock ends with Calum taking Paddy to the top rope for a patronising pat on the head. Calum catches out Paddy mocking him, so he POUNCES him to the outside, from where Paddy monkeys around again, only to get caught as Calum brought us back to pantomime season. The panto ends with a vicious uranage backbreaker as Paddy’s spine bounced off of Calum’s knee… and it wasn’t helped with a punt kick to the back either.

Eventually Paddy hits back with a chinbreaker, but Calum’s quickly back with a forearm and an overhead belly-to-belly. Paddy manages to surprise Calum with a spiking DDT, and he’s able to build that up with some scrappy shots as well. A ‘rana’s next, but Paddy can’t avoid a spear as he gets folded in half, before Calum took him to the top rope in a Fireman’s carry, only for Paddy to slip out and land a sunset bomb off the top. A superkick’s next for Paddy, who followed up with a cutter out of the corner… and that’s the win! Well, Paddy’s technically the number one contender, so the win wasn’t too shocking, but this feels like he’s eking by the stars of tomorrow on a “one last run” sort of tour. Good stuff from Calum in defeat. ***

Before the next match, B. Cool warmed up the crowd to tell us he’s got an upset stomach that’s led to the shits. Or, in insider lingo… “a case of the NXT UKs”. Standing ovation from some there… then again as he took a shot at Moustache Mountain not defending their tag titles. Bringing the heavy artillery here.

B. Cool vs. Omari vs. Scotty Davis
Going in, Scotty Davis, Omari and Calum Black were in a Twitter poll to decide who’d face B Cool. The result was close enough for Joe Cabray to put Davis and Omari in there, perhaps more out of spite than anything else…

Meanwhile, the Dublin crowd have found a way to get Omari in your head… B. Cool tries to save himself by talking Omari and Scotty into fighting each other, but it backfires as Scotty DRAGS HIM THROUGH THE ROPES to make sure he was involved. B avoids a Gator roll with a knee, but he’s in to shriek through Omari before he had to duck a crossbody. Fortuitously, B Cool’s staying alive.

A wheelbarrow roll-up gets B. Cool ahead, as did an enziguiri, before he found himself cornered by Omari. Cowering in the corner worked, but Omari suckers in B. Cool with a forearm to the back, as B. Cool looked to become a crash test dummy. Either that, or Cabray really did pay them off! B’s ragdolled for fun, to the point where the sadists in the crowd were laughing, before a suplex just tossed B hard into the corner. Ew. Finally they give up on B, throwing him hard to the outside as they turn their guns on each other, with Omari whaling away before B returned… and got elbowed. Wash, rinse, repeat, and then B. Cool finally gets some offence in…

Until he goes for a brainbuster, which is easily reversed.

Scotty’s back with Gator rolls, before a clothesline and a standing moonsault led into a trapped-arm crossface… which drew in B. Cool to break up with… a German suplex?! The lad’s more than a comic genius. Except he gets too cocky and Scotty’s up to kill him with fire. Omari has to save him as he went for an O-Zone on Scotty, only to get tossed outside as Scotty’s springboard roundhouse kick also took B outside ahead of some dives.

B Cool gets in on the act too with a double-jump body press, before he took Scotty back in for an inverted suplex… then a brainbuster. Except Scotty escapes the brainbuster and took a mule kick. No DQ though means we stay alive, until Omari just decides to bugger it and slams BOTH OF THEM AT THE SAME TIME. That’s unfair. A leg lariat drops B, before Omari hauled up Scotty into the O-Zone, then ragdolled B for a gutwrench sit-out powerbomb for a near-fall. In the end though, B gets spiked with a Gator Roll, as a cross-legged Fisherman buster puts him down. Holy hell, that was a heck of a showing from all three, with B Cool showing his chops beyond the ha-ha, and we’ve still got Omari/Scotty 2 down the line! ***½

Only True Pros (Liam Royal & Michael May) vs. Young Guns (Ethan Allen & Luke Jacobs) vs. More Than Hype (Darren Kearney & Nathan Martin)
Auld Liam’s been on the caffeine again lads. It’s an OTT debut for the Young Guns, who have been making a name for themselves in the north-west of England.

Ethan Allen and Nathan Martin start us off, as we start with the battle of guys who have two first names. The Young Guns were just about edging it early on, as Luke Jacobs came in to help clear the ring, but it just meant they got ganged up on as More Than Hype and the True Pros combined to toss them outside.

They quickly recover as a suplex from Allen just a one-count on Martin, while Jacobs kept up the pace, blistering Martin with a chop. Commentary keeps mentioning their absentee tag team champions, with Tony Kelly calling Kearney and Martin virtually “interim” champions… and it’s when Darren Kearney came in that the tide changed, as he charged through both of the Young Guns, saving himself on a step-up dropkick to change it to a step-up clothesline.

Michael May sneaks a tag in as he worked with Ethan Allen, looking for a crossface before Liam Royal just came in to charge through him. A slam’s next, as was an elbow drop, as the True Pros began to settle into a groove. Ethan Allen’s hooked, then hurled into the corner as May got a solid two-count out of him, all while keeping the Young Gun in their corner. Royal’s back, but Allen’s able to get free and tag in Luke Jacobs, who cleared the apron and continued with a head of steam, tossing May around… then Martin… before running into a Liam Royal-sized brick wall. A brick wall that eventually got thrown around!

Kearney ‘s back in with a springboard into May, but May’s able to hit a Koppo kick and the Clipped Wings that Angel Garza uses for a near-fall. The Young Guns manage to come back with a pair of submissions to restrain the True Pros, but Liam Royal monsters up and charges away to break both holds. More Than Hype capitalise with duelling single crabs, but they’re not legal and end up getting jumped on by the Young Guns, with Allen mounting Kearney for a Young Boy Killer… but yet again the holds get broken, this time by the Pros.

Royal starts slapping around Nathan Martin, which just triggers the Psycho… and Luke Jacobs too as they double-team big Liam before booting him to the outside. Martin and Jacobs turn their aim at each other after that, firing away with right hands before a STO from Jacobs and a double-team spinebuster/backcracker almost got the debutants the upset. From there though, More Than Hype hit back with a double-team suplex… but Michael May literally steals the pin… and that’s technically a loss for the number one contenders. A cracker of a match that never seemed to stop – and the win for the True Pros keeps their undefeated streak alive. That’s gotta be a 3-way for the title whenever the dates align, right? ***¾

The True Pros couldn’t celebrate for long though – they’re jumped by Club Rock Shandy almost instantly after the match, with Clayton Long and Martin Steers hitting springboard missile dropkicks into the pair before low bridging Royal to the outside. It seems after many many quick losses, they’re finally looking to make a mark!

Mark Haskins vs. Martina
This was apparently Haskins’ first intergender match – and was Martina’s return to OTT after spending the back end of 2019 in Japan. He’s perhaps overlooking her, and suggested Martina lay down to save herself… and other, more nefarious, inferences.

She refuses, and starts by superkicking Haskins for a three-count… but his foot’s on the rope just in time to save Haskins’ blushes. Not to worry, Martina followed that up with a tope to the outside, before she got lifted up onto the bar… which she dives off of. I doubt that’s the first time. Returning to the ring, Haskins caught Martina with a gamengiri, then an apron PK before dropkicking Martina through the front row. Haskins stays on Martina, getting some near-falls before he looked to dismantle her, stomping on the arm. An armbreaker’s next, then an armbar, complete with more wrist work, and finally a crossface that forced Martina to drag herself to the ropes… except Haskins transitioned into another armbar before she got a foot to the rope.

Martina demands more though, inviting kicks from Haskins before she caught him out with an enziguiri as Martina was starting to get the proverbial crimson mask. The blood fires her up though, stomping into Haskins in the corner before he fought back with a Superman punch, only for Martina to strike back with a running Meteora for a near-fall. Haskins is able to respond though, rolling through for a death valley driver, but Martina counters with a crucifix for a near-fall before she’s wiped out with a short-range clothesline for a near-fall. Chops follow, as did a knee strike, as the Dublin crowd were far from happy with Haskins’ aggression…

What they were happy with though, was Martina’s satellite DDT and twisting suplex combo, which sent Haskins rolling outside for cover. Well, as much cover as he could get, as Martina followed out with a pair of topes. A double springboard Seshbreaker finds its mark for a near-fall, but Haskins follows her to the corner, looking to avoid another one off the top rope… Vicki Haskins gets involved too, hanging Martina up in the corner as Mark capitalises with an apron death valley driver.

Haskisn followed that up with a pair of flying stomps… but it doesn’t put Martina down as she kicks out at two. Meanwhile, Vicki Haskins is removing turnbuckle pads to distract the ref, while Mark continues with stomps… but Martina fires back before Vicki provides a distraction, allowing Mark to win with a roll-up. This was violent, but that finish seemed to come horribly out of left field – like a part of the story was cut out or something? Martina loses nothing with the defeat, but Mark Haskins’ win does perhaps inch him back to a rematch for the GN title. ***¼

Backstage, Justy berates Sammy D for holding Justin Daniels in a Dragon Sleeper after his match. Sammy reckons Justy is too lenient and that’s why he’s losing his spot. Sammy squelches…

Sean Guinness vs. Cara Noir
This was Guinness’ first outing in OTT since July, when he aligned himself with the Only True Pros. So (still-unnamed) J Money talks for him, which makes the crowd chant “you are boring” at Guinness… who still has some fans.

Cara Noir’s brought his mirror mask to Ireland for the first time, but you can tell this particular crowd perhaps wasn’t fully on board with him to begin with. Guinness starts by powdering outside at the bell, or as it’s more known these days, “doing a Jay White”. He’s quickly back in though as Cara Noir fooled around on a knuckle lock, miming instead as the pair eventually made it to the mat. A lock-up ends in the ropes as Guinness continued to get frustrated, to the point where he slapped Cara Noir… but got caught as he tried to bail. A forearm to the back knocks down the Black Swan, who then got hurled into the turnbuckles, chest-first, as Guinness began to wear him down.

After trading chops, Cara Noir tries to go for a Blackout sleeper… but Guinness breaks it by biting and snapping the toes of Noir… and that gives Guinness an obvious body part to work on. Trapping Cara’s toes in the ropes makes it worse, as did a superkick to the back of the head… but Cara’s able to respond with a pair of those Swan Woo dropkicks, before some forearms and a clothesline had Guinness down. Noir blocks a fireman’s carry gutbuster and ragdolls Guinness with a rebound German suplex, before a Rude Awakening neckbreaker nearly put him away. An avalanche piledriver’s teased by Noir, but Guinness goes back to the feet to get himself free, knocking Cara down ahead of that gutbuster. After getting a near-fall, Guinness traps Cara in an ankle lock, but Noir gets free… and topes into the unnamed J-Money at ringside for extra credit.

Cara tries for a package piledriver on the apron, but has to make do with a big boot before Guinness responded with a superplex… rolling through for a second suplex that almost gets him the win. Guinness took too long going up top, and ends up leaping into a kick from Cara that left both men on the deck. They fight back to their feet, only for a headbutt to drop Guinness, who responds with a clothesline out of nowhere. A stomp off the top is next from Guinness, as was another ankle lock, but Cara escapes and eventually trapped Guinness in the Blackout sleeper. Not J-Money distracts the ref, so the tapping’s not seen, and after Cara went for him, a low blow and a roll-up gets Guinness the win. Well… it was technically fine, but this presentation of Guinness is just bland. I don’t think it helps that this was his first outing in six months, and so his association with Only True Pros wasn’t strong, but you can’t help but notice that this doesn’t seem to be clicking just yet. ***

OTT World Championship: LJ Cleary vs. David Starr (c)
On the last Contenders show, LJ challenged David Starr to give him a title shot – but it wasn’t until after we had some impromptu karaoke to Four Rusted Horses that we found out the answer: it’s on the line!

With that late answer perhaps colouring LJ’s mindset, he found himself on the defensive early on, having to escape out of a drop toe hold before grabbing Starr in a cravat. A side headlock from LJ looked to be escaped with a back suplex, but Cleary hangs on, before he a series of back-and-forth pinning attempts saw Cleary push on before they reached an exasperated stand-off. Back inside, Starr worked into a hammerlock armbar on LJ, rolling him down for a pinning attempt before rolling Cleary in for a seated surfboard. LJ reverses it though, trapping Starr in the middle of the ring… as they went back and forth on the hold. Duelling chants provide the background as Starr and Cleary criss-cross the ring, at least until LJ tripped an irritated Starr, following up with more holds to keep him grounded as the champion was having to dip into his amateur background. A chop downs Cleary though, taking him outside… and more of them follow before they have a brief brawl around the Ringside Club.

Starr begins to focus on LJ’s knee when they got back to the ring, hitting a knee breaker before an inverted Muta lock added more pressure. LJ’s making a point of going for Starr’s midsection though, as commentary mentioned Starr having had a bout of flu and all that comes with it. After sending LJ outside, Starr almost invites him into battle again, but Cleary’s beaten to the punch with some chops before some right hands from the Irishman and a springboard clothesline out of the corner took him down. A Shining Wizard follows for a two-count for LJ, along with an ushigoroshi, but Starr’s able to respond by taking LJ outside… and although he misses with a tope, his followers in the ring crew were able to catch him. Friends in the right places, eh?

LJ responds with a tope that finds Starr, before a springboard kick drew a near-fall back inside. A dropkick from Starr takes LJ into the corner, but a desperation roll-up nearly gets the upset… before LJ springboarded into a Han Stansen. Another dive from Starr’s next as he leaps into Cleary on the floor, but it’s LJ who got the better of an exchange on the apron… until Starr slid back inside to avoid a Destroyer. Not to worry: LJ looked for it back inside, only to be rolled into a Republican Remorse. Pushing away from it, LJ’s back with a right hand, before he countered a Han Stansen into a backslide for a near-fall. A snap German from Starr is responded to with an Asai DDT for a near-fall, before a Destroyer’s caught and turned into a Blackheart Buster.

Cleary snaps in with a Destroyer seconds later, only to get battered with a Han Stansen as the pair continued to swing for the fences, even though it meant both of them were virtually on fumes. LJ’s back with some slaps to Starr, who was throwing haymakers that weren’t landing… before trapping LJ in the ropes for a nasty Product Recall. A Kaepernick’s escaped as LJ kicks out Starr’s knee, then came in with an Activate Destroyer… before he stopped for a springboard ‘rana. That proved to be the worst idea as Starr countered into the Kaepernick before a Han Stansen swiftly put LJ away. This was absolutely fantastic stuff here, with Starr giving LJ – whom until now, wasn’t exactly seen on his level – more than enough to make you think that just maybe, LJ was winning. That finishing stretch looked brutal, and more than enough to win any match. ****½

After the match, Starr invited a fan in to celebrate with the belt – he’ll have to defend it a few hundred times if everyone gonna get a go! There’s a rallying cry for the fans, before he responded to LJ Cleary’s accusations that he “doesn’t care about this place” by… giving him a thumbs up as the ring crew crowdsurfed him to the back. That’s… a sign?

The first Contenders show of the year was a solid success – helped on by a fantastic main event that absolutely elevated LJ Cleary despite the defeat. 2020 looks to have picked up where 2019 left off for OTT, who continue to blend together storylines and talent development in one go – but with just one show left (Kings, Monsters and Bastards on February 15) before ScrapperMania, it sure does seem that Starr’s not got any obvious challengers for his championship in the near future.