The first round of the 2018 British J Cup saw Manchester play host to a loaded card – even if the crowd was perhaps a little below par.

Expanding to a two-day format and held as part of the Wrestling Media Con in (near) Manchester, Rev Pro also swelled the field to 16 competitors – with Kurtis Chapman having to drop out late after picking up an injury. Kip Sabian would replace him for the show, which emanate from the Bowler’s Exhibition Centre. Andy Simmons and Kevin Kelly are on commentary. Yeah, we’re skipping some shows… They’ve not edited out the fluff here, so we see James Daniels walking to the ring before we get right to action.

First Round: Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Kyle Fletcher
We’re starting with the defending champion – and we’re in with the new music for Kyle Fletcher (and Aussie Open). It actually sounds like Run The Jewels…

Liger tentatively accepts a handshake and he races into an early advantage with a seated surfboard that gets pulled into a chinlock… before Fletcher floats out into a stretch of his own. After getting free, Liger chopped Fletcher towards the corner, before he went back for a Romero special, which Fletcher fought out of. In response, Fletcher grapevined Liger’s leg and started to work on the knee, before he whipped Liger into the corner. Kyle runs into some boots and a Shotei, before Liger goes for a Liger bomb… which Fletcher wheelbarrowed out of for a near-fall. A dropkick follows to take Liger outside, where he’s crashed into with a step-up cannonball senton.

Charging back into the ropes, Fletcher’s low-bridged to the outside as Liger responds with a cannonball off the apron as the veteran looked to be getting comfortable. He runs into the Aussie Arrow lawndart, before Fletcher nails a flying facebuster for a near-fall. A moonsault off the top comes up short, and that was Kyle’s undoing as a Shotei and a brainbuster booked Liger’s place in the semis. A perfectly fine opener, with a lot of Liger’s greatest hits to boot. ***¼

I don’t know how they set it up, but the Bowler’s Exhibition Centre sounded cavernous for this… the dim lighting of the crowd didn’t help matters!

First Round: Bandido vs. El Phantasmo
Out of all of his titles, Bandido came out wearing his CRASH tag title. Strange it’s not his PROGRESS belt…

They keep things at close quarters early on, with Phantasmo forcing Bandido to bridge out of a pin early on. From there, Bandido cartwheels out of a ‘rana as the pair built up to the duelling dropkick stand-off, before we got some near-falls out of a monkey flip sequence. It’s crisp stuff, but it feels very unlike what Rev Pro usually produce. What did feel very like a Rev Pro show was Phantasmo’s rope-walking, which ended with a ‘rana to Bandido, who rolled outside and into the path of a tope. A moonsault follows from Phantasmo, who rolls the luchador back inside… and with Bandido rolling away, Phantasmo opted to slingshot in, do some hand-walking and finish the senton for a near-fall.

Bandido begins to fight back, catching ELP with a thrust kick to take him outside, where an Orihara moonsault awaits, but Bandido took too long for his next move and gets caught up top by Phantasmo, who hits a top rope ‘rana of his own before connecting with a top rope splash for a near-fall. A whirlibird neckbreaker’s quickly stopped as Phantasmo runs into a standing Spanish Fly, almost ending the match in the process, before the pair exchanged Destroyers as they collapse to the mat. The pair exchange overhand chops as they fight back to their feet, but Bandido backflips to avoid a clothesline, then takes Phantasmo into the ropes for a 619 and a slingshot Code Red for a near-fall. Phantasmo’s quickly back for the whirlibird neckbreaker, but Bandido’s still up at two, so ELP heads back up for a senton bomb and a springboard moonsault… which gets what has to be tagged as an upset in the first round. On paper, this was a sound match, but it would have clicked a lot better in front of a “regular” Rev Pro crowd. I fear that’ll be a frequent sentiment… ***½

First Round: Kip Sabian vs. Rocky Romero
In as a late replacement, Sabian (who’d also worked the Rev Pro TV tapings) locked horns against Rocky Romero. Hope y’all like the Roppongi 3K theme this weekend!

From the opening tie-up, Romero’s taken into the corner, but we get a clean break as Sabian looked to keep up on the arm. Romero rolls free and goes for a wristlock of his own, before a reversal led to something close to a kip-up from Rocky. On the mat, Sabian keeps up on the arm, but we’re still very much in those opening, feeling-out stages. Rocky misses a knee drop after a slam, but he’s back with some headscissors, climbing up the ropes to complete the move. Shoulder tackles looked to put Sabian ahead, as did a leg lariat as commentary looked to talk about anything but this match. Sabian goes back to the arm and shoulder of Rocky, who responded by catching Sabian in a Gory stretch.

Kip manages to slip out, and reply with a pop-up knee strike before Rocky just went for a Gory special, opting not to go for a Vertebreaker as Sabian managed to grab hold of the ropes in the corner. Rocky keeps up with some punches to the gut, then a low dropkick as he started to rack up those near-falls. Sabian manages to avoid a charge into the corner, as he hit back with a springboard missile dropkick instead before a PK flattened Rocky in the middle of the ring. Kip goes for a cross-legged suplex and lands it at the second time for a near-fall, before pulling Rocky into a grounded Octopus, forcing Romero into a rope break. A double stomp off the top misses though, and Kip’s trapped in the corner for some Forever lariats, as Rocky looked to mount another comeback.

The pair end up trading some more strikes, but Romero nails an uppercut before he ran into a pop-up knee as both men crashed to the mat once more. Kip comes up first as he looked for a Burning Hammer, but Rocky escaped and nails an enziguiri, before a running Sliced Bread gets the win. Chalk another one up to being a victim of the crowd – decent bell-to-bell, but the crowd struggled to get into it. **½

During that last match, Andy Simmons let it slip that Dan Magee and Rev Pro contender Kenneth Halfpenny will be off to the New Japan LA Dojo in October…

First Round: SHO vs. Dean Allmark
This was Allmark’s first appearance in Rev Pro for over five and a half years – but in the interim he’s made a heck of a name for himself in the North West… somehow without ever breaking out beyond there.

SHO started by grabbing a wrist, but Allmark easily breaks it and goes for a headlock as Allmark used some classic British wrestling techniques on SHO. Allmark gets lifted onto the apron by SHO, who sweeps the legs and dropkicks him down to the floor, before using the ring to full effect – wrapping Allmark’s arm around the post and turnbuckle irons. Back inside, SHO ties up Allmark’s arms and trips him with relative ease, but Allmark fires back with some European uppercuts… only to get caught and dragged down to the mat with a sleeperhold. He fights free, but SHO quickly grabs a cross armbreaker, only for Allmark to get free of that as we worked into some indy’riffic pinning counters as poor Shay Purser worse his shoulder out with the counts.

A double clothesline follows as the pair crash to the mat, but Allmark’s right back with a 619-like move in the ropes before taking SHO outside for a tope. Back inside, a Tennessee Jam legdrop crushes SHO for a near-fall, before Allmark teases a Styles Clash, and turns it into a powerbomb for a near-fall – the old Clashing Stones! SHO rebounds with a back cracker into a cross armbreaker, before a German suplex attempt gets delayed in the ropes, as Allmark elbowed his way free. Allmark catches SHO in the ropes and stomps him as he was trapped in the buckles, before a springboard moonsault whiffs, allowing SHO to hit back with some rolling Germans, before a Lumbar Check followed for a near-fall on Dean. The Shock Arrow doesn’t fail though, and SHO ends up with a semi-final bout with his “producer” Rocky Romero. Decent action with a nice change of pace and style here! ***¼

Mark Davis vs. Great O-Kharn
This was O-Kharn’s biggest test thus far, and he started by throwing chops with Davis… which wasn’t necessarily a smart idea. O-Kharn held his own though, and then began to take a shortcut by raking the eyes, before he was taken into the corner as Davis looked to run in with a forearm…

Except O-Kharn wisely powdered to the outside. Davis gets caught with a hotshot in the ropes though, giving O-Kharn something to build on, as he pulls Davis up by the ear before throwing in some Mongolian chops to it. O-Kharn followed up by sitting on Davis on the corner, and it’s back to the Mongolian chops as Davis is decked for a two-count.

The over-the-back stretch followed, before Davis elbowed free of the claw chokeslam, and ends up taking the former Young Lion into the corner for clotheslines. O-Kharn escapes, but runs into a discus forearm, sending him outside as Dunkzilla flew with a tope that wrecked the guard rails! Back inside, the sliding forearm catches O-Kharn in the corner for a near-fall, but the Australian’s quickly met with a diving neckbreaker as the pair go back to trading strikes.

A punch fells O-Kharn for a near-fall, as does the Alphamare Waterslide… but O-Kharn uses the ref as a human shield, unsighting him as a low blow and a front suplex almost put Dunkzilla away. It’s back to the claw-assisted bow-and-arrow stretch, which weakened Davis for long enough for the claw chokeslam to put him down for the count. On paper, this is a huge upset, but if you want to be overly analytical, this could be just another part of the New Japan audition… **½

First Round: David Starr vs. Tiger Mask
We’ve got more new music as sorta-Joan Jett introduces David Starr to the ring, and it’s a rematch from the opening night of Strong Style Evolved UK, where Tiger Mask shocked Starr in Milton Keynes.

Starr begins by working on Tiger Mask’s shoulder, but there’s a quick escape as Tiger complained about some small joint manipulation. Starr runs away from a teased dive, as he tried to put as much space between him and Tiger Mask as possible, before rushing back to the ring… and getting his leg swept away. Tiger keeps on top, but he’s met with a twanging rope as Starr used a shortcut to get back into it, before he made a brief diversion as he tried to undo Tiger’s mask. Starr keeps up with a back elbow to Tiger, then a sliding splash into the corner (anyone else remember the Emmamite Sandwich?) as he collected another two-count.

Starr’s cut off by his own momentum as he runs into a tiltawhirl backbreaker, before an attempted Tiger Driver’s blocked and eventually countered into a crucifix pin. Tiger followed that up with an armbar, forcing Starr to scramble for the ropes… where he manages to rebound with a Han Stansen lariat off the ropes. A forearm from Tiger Mask puts the brakes on briefly, until a Blackheart Buster shocks Tiger Mask for a near-fall. The pair go at it some more, before Starr redirected Tiger Mask’s kick into Shay Purser’s gut… and with no ref, there’s a pop-up low blow as Starr looked to make the most of things. Tiger Mask is right back in to crotch Starr on the top rope, which led to the butterfly superplex… but there’s no ref still, so Starr remained alive in the match. Regardless, Tiger Mask nails a Tiger Driver… but still, Shay is down!

In the end though, Shay comes back around and counts the fall as Starr pulled off Tiger Mask’s hood, rolling him up for the pin as the veteran had to pick between kicking out or saving his identity. A cheap win for Starr, but a pretty solid outing to keep the conniving Starr in the tournament. ***

First Round: Chris Ridgeway vs. KUSHIDA
With both men focusing on the technical aspect of things, this could be a sleeper hit.

KUSHIDA started by trying to roll Ridgeway out for a pin, but Ridgeway managed to keep close to him, countering the cartwheel dropkick by grabbing a heel hook – but KUSHIDA’s able to make it to the ropes instead. A Muta lock was teased, but instead Ridgeway follows with a STF, only for it to end in the ropes as Ridgeway and KUSHIDA swapped duelling heel hooks.

Ridgeway manages to turn it into a dual heel hook, forcing KUSHIDA into the ropes after one of his kicks had been caught, and that put Ridgeway on the offensive briefly… until a handstand kick clobbered Ridgeway in the ropes. He shrugs that off and leaps into KUSHIDA with a guillotine, but KUSHIDA maneuvers the arm and rolls Ridgeway into a Hoverboard lock, before a bridging suplex almost pinned the Cumbrian.

Ridgeway fired back with an axe kick and a PK as he tried to cut through KUSHIDA, before they switched waistlock attempts that ended with KUSHIDA using a Judo throw to escape a sleeperhold. It only delays it as KUSHIDA tried to go back to the Hoverboard lock, but Ridgeway’s able to switch that into a cross armbreaker as the pair continued to go hold-for-hold. KUSHIDA looked to go ahead when he kicked out Ridgeway’s arm, following it with a spiking DDT, but the Back to the Future’s countered into a Kirifuda clutch, then into a Dragon sleeper as KUSHIDA looked to be fading. There’s an escape, but Ridgeway followed in with an enziguiri before he was dragged into the turnbuckles with a reverse STO… but Ridgeway’s able to counter another Back to the Future.

Eventually KUSHIDA blocks some kicks but walked into a knee strike… he lands an enziguiri in response, then a buzzsaw kick for a near-fall, before finishing off Ridgeway with Back to the Future. That was a bit of an anticlimactic ending to be honest, but the entire match lived up to my expectations as a ground-based thriller. Just a shame the crowd wasn’t into the wrestling as much as they perhaps would have been elsewhere… ***½

First Round: Ryusuke Taguchi vs. YOH
I still have mental scars from last year’s British J Cup when Taguchi’s rear end was on full show… meanwhile, we have the prude Andy Boy on commentary, whose mind needs to get out of the gutter!

We’ve a tentative start as the pair work over each other’s wrist, with Taguchi going into the ropes, before YOH encouraged him into some cardio by repeatedly sending him into the ropes. It tired out Taguchi so much he could barely get up for his dropkick, and he instantly calls a time-out… only for him to get caught in an armbar as he scurried to the outside for some respite, rolling under the guard rails and getting himself briefly stuck. It’s being played for comedy, but the crowd aren’t even gnawing on it, let alone biting.

Taguchi tries to go under the ring, and succeeds as YOH couldn’t grab him… so YOH stomps in the ring in a bid to disorientate Taguchi… who’d already emerged on the other side. They finally return to the ring as YOH goes back to the arm, before falling to a hip attack as Taguchi looked to make a comeback, trapping YOK in the ripes for another hattrick of hips. There’s another flying hip attack, this time off the top rope, before he dove into YOH with the Bummer-ye for a near-fall, as things looked to get more serious with a Dodon… but YOH fights out and takes another hip attack. That led to YOH skinning the cat, but he drags himself back into an enziguiri for a near-fall, before a superkick to the arse and a Falcon arrow left Taguchi down.

The pair follow that up by exchanging atomic drops, before Taguchi spammed the hip attacks some more, leading to a flying hip attack that sees Taguchi land in an atomic drop, before they both collapsed through arse pain. YOH gets up first, and the bell rings as the rather odd ruling was that YOH beat the ref’s count. It didn’t work live. It didn’t work on tape… especially since commentary missed it all. As a match, it was there, but the finish really harmed it. **¼

First Round: Rich Swann vs. Flamita
A rather controversial booking for some, Swann wrapped up the opening round matches as he took on Flamita.

Flamita took exception to Swann’s crazy legs early on, before we began the grappling as both men kept it somewhat grounded, working arm wringers before Swann was sent outside… but Flamita’s faked-out dive just earned him boos. They turn up the pace, and it’s Swann who hits a dive as he cracks Flamita with a tope con giro as Kevin Kelly moaned about Shay Purser’s refereeing.

Meanwhile, Flamita and Swann trade shots on the apron, which leads to a spiking DDT as Swann’s sent flying, and that put the luchador on the front foot for a while. A chinlock grounds Swann back in the ring, before an armbar kept him firmly on the mat. Swann tries to mount a fightback, landing a gamengiri and a snap ‘rana off the top rope, before scoring with a rather unique take on headscissors and a back-flick kick as he caught Flamita in the head for a near-fall.

Flamita hit back with a 619 in the corner, then a 450 splash as he just about eked out a near-fall on Swann. A muscle buster’s avoided as the pair go back-and-forth, leading to a Spanish Fly that nearly put away Swann, so Flamita heads back up top for another 450, but Swann rolls away and hits back with a modified Falcon for another near-fall. The pair get back up to trade strikes, before they both backflipped into pump kicks at the same time. Flamita’s back up first and almost wins with the Muscle Buster that’s turned into a gutbuster, before they swapped handspring cutters as Swann ended up taking the win with a 450 splash off the middle rope. Whereas most of the first round was lacking in spark or any kind of flashiness, this stood out – easily the best match in the tournament thus far. ***¾

RINGKAMPF (Timothy Thatcher & WALTER) vs. CCK (Chris Brookes & Jonathan Gresham)
To quote a dog from the insurance adverts… ohh yes! An early tease for wXw’s World Tag Team League, since both teams are in the same block there.

Now, in “real time” canon, CCK are bad guys… but since the turn happened on the to-be-aired TV tapings (and I’ve not seen the Portsmouth show yet), the crowd didn’t react as such. Thatcher and Gresham start off with some grappling, but Gresham opted to powder to the outside as it looked like Thatcher was fixing to smother him on the mat. Those fears came true as Thatcher took Gresham’s back and went for a chinlock, before Gresham again slithered out and into the ropes as he tried to frustrate Thatcher. Tags followed as WALTER and Brookes came in, with Brookes easily being gutwrenched and lifted onto the apron as if he were nothing.

Returning to the ring, Brookes tries to kick away at WALTER, before he threw a chop… which just earned him a slam and an elbow drop as the angry Austrian brought in a similarly non-plussed Thatcher. A blind tag brings Gresham back into it, as he takes down Thatcher with a crossbody before goading WALTER – which quickly backfired as Chris Brookes cane in and instantly had to absorb a chop. Yup. In the cavernous arena, those chops still ring loud… and prompted Brookes to roll out to Gresham, who tried to chop WALTER. You can guess how that went. Gresham scarpers as he tries a crossbody, but he just bounces off of the Austrian, who stared him down… and there’s a bit of sneakiness rom Brookes who twangs the ropes into WALTER as he tried to give chase.

Gresham keeps up with the low blows, but he’s quickly decked with a big boot as WALTER’s had enough of their fun and games. In comes Thatcher, who relished the prospect of bending Gresham over his knees, as this quickly became the proverbial “men against boys” scenario as Gresham found himself isolated and chopped for fun. Thatcher uses a single leg crab on Gresham, who was able to drag his way towards the ropes before he rolled up Thatcher for a near-fall… and then turn around into a big uppercut as RINGKAMPF remained in firm control. WALTER’s back in as Gresham tries to throw some chops… then go for a drop toe hold which didn’t quite work until Gresham chopped out the knee. In comes Brookes as RINGKAMPF found themselves on the defensive, with Brookes’ missile dropkick to WALTER acting as a back senton to catch out Thatcher at the same time. Gresham returns to chop a worn-down WALTER, before he managed to get his feet up for a Yakuza kick and a Shibata-ish dropkick to keep the Austrian at bay.

Then Gresham tried for a German suplex. Yeah. Thatcher comes in to help, but eats an errant clothesline as Gresham comes back in with yet more chops. WALTER wasn’t about to take too many more of those, and lands a chop of his own that instantly felled Gresham for a near-fall. A sit-down splash followed after Gresham thought he’d avoided the big boot, but CCK hit back as a stunner, a cutter and a shooting star press drew a near-fall out of WALTER. Brookes tags in and pulls WALTER into an Octopus stretch, while Gresham tried the same on Thatcher… but RINGKAMPF easily throw themselves free as commentary gave out briefly just WALTER and Thatcher used duelling Gojira clutches before a powerbomb with an uppercut on the way down nearly put Brookes down for the count. Thatcher ends up getting rolled up for a near-fall as Brookes looked to chop his way to victory, but an enziguiri stops him, then a Saito suplex before Thatcher’s butterfly suplex gets another near-fall.

Gresham manages to get past WALTER to break up another submission attempt… but he’s then used as a human weapon as WALTER broke up Brookes’ Octopus stretch. Tags bring in WALTER and Gresham, but that last one was a blind tag, so Gresham’s able to try and chop away a Boston crab on Brookes… which WALTER shrugged off with the passion of a Young Lion before letting go and killing Gresham with a chop! Somehow, Gresham kipped up and lands an enziguiri, but his bid for a German suplex ended up with him getting thrown into the ropes. In response, he sends WALTER to the outside, but instead catches Thatcher with a Quebrada into Thatcher… tweaking his ankle on landing. It wasn’t a con job either, as Gresham hurriedly tagged out to Brookes, who absorbs some chops before rolling up WALTER with a big ol’ handful of tights for the upset. Crowd issues aside, this was a really good main event – and in front of a more familiar crowd I’ve no qualms that this would have been an even bigger hit. ****¼

Unfortunately, this was a case of the live reports very much being borne out on the VOD – sometimes, you can go to shows that get dodgy live reviews, but end up being quite alright on tape. In this case, what we had was some good wrestling… but in an atmosphere that at times was utterly barren. As such, that reflected in matches that were okay, but offered little spark. This was always the risk when you take a product like this to an unfamiliar location – but it’ll be a lesson learned for 2019’s tournament. That aside, this was a solid start to the 2018 British J Cup, with the last two matches stealing the show and worthy of your time if you’re cherry picking stuff.