Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that it’s WrestleMania Season. In the past decade, WrestleMania Weekend has become something of a magnet for independent promotions to “piggyback” on the biggest show of the year.

In years past, we’ve seen Ring of Honor attempt to steal the weekend with a series of fantastic multi-man matches involving the stars of Japanese promotion Dragon Gate, and groups like WWN Live promoting entire weekends’ worth of events and conventions in the same weekend. Here’s a look at some of the better matches from indie groups that were held in the days leading up to WrestleMania.

Sami Callihan vs. AR Fox (EVOLVE 19, April 5, 2013 – available at WWNlive.com)

This was the main event of EVOLVE’s pre-WrestleMania show as around 500 fans packed into the Meadowlands Expo Centre to see the culmination of a one-night tournament to crown the promotion’s first champion. Callihan qualified by way of winning a four-way at the start of the show, then a semi-final over Chuck Taylor, whilst Fox defeated Jon Davis and Ricochet en route to his final appearance.

Callihan comes into this selling an ankle injury from his earlier efforts, whilst Fox is selling a neck injury from earlier in the evening. The two start off somewhat cagey, with Fox being felled with a slap. Callihan goes after Fox with a snapmare, a kick to the back and then starts clubbing Fox with forearms to the back of the neck, as the storyline of Callihan looking for a knockout victory is being put over on commentary.

Fox fires back with a knee to the gut before whipping Callihan into the corner, and ultimately dropkicking Callihan to the floor. A plancha from Fox takes out Callihan as the two start brawling in the rather limited ringside area. Somehow, Fox manages to pull off a shooting star cannonball into Callihan, who was sitting prone by the guard rails, but Callihan manages to get up and send Fox sailing into the crowd… only for Fox to crawl through between the bars of the guard rails, and superkick Callihan.

Fox drapes Callihan over the ring apron and lands a double foot stomp, then follows it up with a tope as he tries to prevent Callihan from entering the ring again. However, an attempt at a second tope sees Fox crash and burn, giving Callihan the chance to drill Fox into the guard rails with a series of Saito suplexes. Fox beats the 20 count back into the ring, but has blood streaming down his arm from the encounters with the guard rails.

Callihan continues the offence with a figure-four like submission that ends with a knee stomp, as Fox rolls to the floor to try and catch a breather. Sadly, Callihan follows him out and slams his back across the ring apron, then onto the concrete floor as the pair roll back into the ring. We see Callihan spit on his hand, and then throw a chop into the chest of a cornered Fox as the beating continues. They go up top as Callihan tries for a superplex, but he’s shoved off by Fox, who jumps down, and rolls through, landing a cannonball in the opposite corner.

A series of running boots to Callihan builds some momentum for Fox, who lands a springboard stunner on Callihan, followed by a senton bomb for a near fall (and no, the springboard stunner didn’t look good here either!). Fox tries for a 450, but lands firmly in the raised feet of Callihan, who quickly follows up with a couple of running boots to a seated Fox. A third attempted running boot is blocked, as Fox hits a roll-up for a near fall, but Callihan pops up and firmly slaps Fox, seemingly riling up his opponent. Fox connects with a Death Valley Driver, then a 450 Splash for another near fall.

The two take things up a notch as Fox looks to go for a superplex, but connects with a dropkick to Callihan instead. Fox then looks to follow up with what I can only think was an attempt at a Spanish Fly, but instead Callihan drills him with a release German suplex off the top, before following up with a powerbomb pin for a two-count, into a Stretch Muffler submission attempt. Callihan switches it into a single-leg Boston Crab, but makes the ropes to break the hold. Callihan drags Fox up for what looks to be a tornado DDT, but Fox fights free, and finally connects with his Spanish Fly for the win.

From my memories of watching this show live on iPPV, the crowd seemed deflated from the start as technical issues for the viewers at home led to the show being delayed.

Cheerleader Melissa vs. Saraya Knight (SHIMMER 53, April 6, 2013 – available at WWNlive.com)

Another main event from the WrestleCon events leading up to WrestleMania 29, SHIMMER presented a steel cage match, as Saraya Knight (unfortunately, more famous these days for being Paige’s mum than anything she’s done in the ring) taking on former champion Cheerleader Melissa  in a rematch from around a year ago, when Saraya won the title. This is an old-school cage match, with only pinfalls/submissions counting (as opposed to the “modern era” match, where escaping also gets a win).

Saraya gets into a pull-apart with a fan on the way down to the ring, before starting off with a fan who tried to dance to her entrance song. Then again, anyone dancing like *that* to Linkin Park’s “Faint” deserves it… not too sure the security guard she kicked low did, but there you go. Clear face/heel boundaries, and all that!

There’s a fair amount of stalling at the start, but when they get going, Saraya shoves Melissa into the corner, but Melissa manages to take down the champion and lock in some grounded headscissors for an early submission attempt. On the hard camera, the cage makes this match nigh-on impossible to watch, sadly. A grounded Melissa slaps Saraya, which enrages the Norwich native, but Melissa avoids any backlash and starts working away on the champions’ knee. Saraya gets on top with a camel clutch-like submission, and demands that Melissa admits that “USA is ****”. Such an admission isn’t forthcoming, and only stirs the patriotism from a seemingly mixed crowd.

Melissa throws Saraya into the cage, before using her boot to ram her head into the cage mesh. Saraya responds by choking her in the corner, and then takes her to the top rope to continue ramming her head into the cage. They balance on the top rope and exchange shots, but Saraya is able to catch a kick, and ends up yanking Melissa’s leg, sending her to the floor the hard way, before jumping down to continue the assault.

Melissa recovers to pick up and drop Saraya on the top rope, using the cage for leverage to kick her head into it, before hitting a death valley driver off the top rope, but doesn’t catch it all. Saraya connects with a running sidewalk slam for a near fall, but can’t retain the advantage and finds herself locked in Jamie Noble’s old Trailer Hitch (modified figure-four leg lock), with a couple of shots to the back from Melissa’s free leg for good measure. Melissa turns it into a STF-come-surfboard, which then segued into a curb stomp that gets her a two-count.

Melissa goes back to the trailer hitch, but even though Saraya reaches the ropes, the no-disqualification element means that the rope break doesn’t mean a thing here. Another curb stomp gets Melissa a two-count, before Saraya mounts a comeback, wrapping Melissa’s leg arounds the rope, whilst taunting the crowd saying “they don’t even like ya; they’re not even cheering for ya!”

Saraya hits a Fly Swatter on Melissa, before bounding off the ropes into a two-legged leg drop for a near fall. A superplex-turned-Fisherman buster gets Saraya a two-count, but Melissa fires back, hitting a leaping forearm into the corner on Saraya, but an attempted Emerald Fusion is avoided by Saraya, only for Melissa to get it at the second attempt, with Saraya kicking out at the last possible moment.

Despite this being a pinfall/submissions only cage match, Melissa goes to the top rope to escape the cage, and gets caught by Saraya, who attempts to hit a powerbomb off the top. Melissa clings onto the cage and hits a super huracanrana, before climbing to the top again and connecting with a missile dropkick. Melissa then seals the win with a second Air Raid Crash (Emerald Fusion) for the pin.

A pretty good main event, in spite of the cage making things difficult for the hard camera, and another WrestleMania-weekend match worth digging out!

DO Fixer vs. Blood Generation (Ring of Honor, Supercard of Honor, March 31, 2006)

This is where it all started – the first ever “Dragon Gate Six Man” on a ROH card, and the match that was the clear winner of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Match of the Year award in 2006. Here, we see the DO Fixer stable from Dragon Gate (Dragon Kid, Genki Horuguchi and Ryo Saito) taking on the Blood Generation team of CIMA, Masato Yoshino and Naruki Doi.

This match was effectively a Dragon Gate feud being carried over into an ROH ring, and to give some context to where the WWE was headed at this time, this match took place 48 hours before WrestleMania 22, where Rey Mysterio won the World Heavyweight Championship, and John Cena defeating Triple H in the main event to retain the WWE title. Neither of those matches would come close to this!

Yoshino and Horuguchi start off with some ground work as they both nullify each other, before exchanging arm-drags as Doi and Dragon Kid come into the fray. Straight away, Dragon Kid takes two attempts to block a tilt-a-whirl with a headscissor takedown, before faking out Doi by swivelling between the ropes instead of diving through them to the floor. Dragon Gate rules allow for instant replacement if someone leaves the ring, so we end up swapping out Doi for CIMA, whilst Horuguchi re-enters for DO Fixer. Needless to say, I’m probably not going to be recapping this one move for move!

CIMA leapfrogs over Genki a few times before hitting a dropkick, but Horuguchi fires back with headscissors that takes CIMA to the floor. In comes Ryo Saito against Yoshino, and the latter showcases his speed rope-running, but gets caught by Saito as a headscissor takedown is blocked and turned into a sidewalk slam. Dragon Kid goes to work on Yoshino, before bringing in his DO Fixer partners Saito and Horuguchi to double-team Yoshino with a collection of low dro-kicks.

Yoshino manages to go into his own corner with Dragon Kid for a little payback, and CIMA comes in for a one-handed atomic drop that results in CIMA launching Kid across the ring. Kid manages to tag out, and in comes Saito, who takes down CIMA with a back elbow, before getting a one-count from a standing legdrop. The pair exchange some vicious chops, and before long we’re left with Naruki Doi one-on-three against the DO Fixer team, as Horuguchi and Saito help Dragon Kid pivot as the trio connect with low dropkicks, getting Genki a two-count.

CIMA and Yoshino help Doi force Horuguchi into the Blood Generation corner, as the team come in to hit a trio of snapmares whilst grabbing onto Genki’s receding hairline. Yoshino keeps up the pressure with a satellite Octopus hold on Horuguchi before flipping around into a pinfall attempt for a two count, and following that up with a cannonball into a stricken Horuguchi in the corner. CIMA and Doi lift up Horuguchi as if they were going to use him as a human jump rope, allowing Yoshino to run off the ropes and land a senton onto the balding one.

CIMA dropkicks Horuguchi’s rear, as Doi and Yoshino held Horuguchi in place as the Blood Generation firmly gain control with a variety of double- and triple-team moves, before CIMA locks in an abdominal stretch on Horuguchi. Doi slips up, as Horoguchi wins a battle of wills for a suplex attempt, and finally tags in Ryo Saito, but his comeback stutters before tossing Doi out of the ring with an overhead belly to belly. In come Kid and Yoshino, and Kid’s tiltawhirl headscissors sends Yoshino out as the two teams go flying.

Saito and CIMA remain in the ring, with Saito blocking a huracanrana attempt with a powerbomb, before getting a near-fall following some rolling Fisherman suplexes. CIMA gets back on top though, with Blood Generation cornering Saito and drilling him with charges into the corner, as Dragon Kid’s attempt to cut them off ends with him eating a Steiner Brothers-like doomsday bulldog from Yoshino.

The match starts getting insane at this point, so recapping some highlights – Dragon Kid flips a suplex attempt and gives Yoshino a stunner, only to bound off the ropes and see a headscissor attempt blocked and turned into a facebuster by Naruki Doi. Genki Horuguchi gets a near-fall from a springboard moonsault off the second rope, then manages to escape out of a Fireman’s carry into a TKO attempt, instead drilling Doi with a reverse DDT. At the second attempt, Doi lands his Fireman’s carry into a facebuster on Horuguchi, getting a two-count for his efforts.

We shift to a spot where Doi seems to be going for a super huracanrana on Saito, but Dragon Kid leaps in and instead takes down Doi with a super-super huracanrana (on Doi, who was sitting on Saito’s shoulders), allowing Saito to capitalise with a body splash off the top for a very near fall, as the commentators lay out for the rest of the match. CIMA superkicks off Horuguchi’s head, then blocks a backslide before drilling Horuguchi on his head with a DDT. Doi takes down Horuguchi with something closely resembling the pop-up powerbomb, but in comes Saito to take down Doi with a huracanrana. Yoshino re-enters the fray, but his satellite tilt-a-whirl sees him eat a bridging German suplex from Saito for another near-fall.

Dragon Kid launches himself into the ring to nail Doi (fittingly enough) with a Dragonrana for another two-count, but gets caught as he tries to follow up with a move off the top rope, with CIMA slapping him down. Saito returns to grab CIMA in a waistlock, as Kid jumps off the top in a sunset flip-style move, giving Saito enough moment to drill CIMA with a German suplex. Horuguchi comes in for the Schwein/Kryptonite Krunch on CIMA, and slowly crawls to make the cover as Kid and Saito hold back their DO Fixer opponents, but CIMA kicks out again at two!

Horuguchi goes to scale the ropes, but gets caught and crotched in the middle strand, and Saito’s attempt to make the save goes badly wrong, as he ends up being lifted up onto the shoulders of Doi and Yoshino, making a human bridge for CIMA to break through with a double foot stomp. CIMA follows through and hits a lung-blower onto the still-corner Horuguchi, then catches a flying Dragon Kid, wiping him out with Emerald Fusion.

Doi goes up to the top rope, and tries to put Dragon Kid in a fireman’s carry whilst up there, but Kid fights out and lands a super Ace crusher off the top to the canvas, before springing up to the other corner and connecting with a Dragonrana for the match winning fall!

That was absolutely insane – action packed from start to finish, with barely a pause for breath, which made this stand out from the pack in 2006. This match largely holds up today, but in my mind the ending was just so frantic, the entire match needed a re-watch before it could really sink in. Sadly unavailable (legally) online, it’s worth going out of your way to hunt this one down though!

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