Toronto’s Phoenix Theatre was the host for the latest leg of WCPW’s World Cup Qualifiers – it’s Canada’s turn, and it turned out to be perhaps the best round of qualifiers so far, eh?

Unlike the prior qualifiers, they’ve got nobody to sing O Canada, so instead we’ve got a tale of the tape video as we how much Rene Dupree’s aged since he was with a poodle on SmackDown. Dave Bradshaw and Alex Shane are pretending to be in the arena on commentary, which means one thing… Alex Shane’s bad dad jokes are back! Hey, at least it’s not Matt Striker…

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Canadian Qualifier – First Round: Michael Elgin vs. Rene Dupree
There’s an obvious jump cut in the entrances as Michael Elgin teleports onto the turnbuckles. Long-time WWE referee Jimmy Korderas officiating some of the matches today, which adds a little bit of prestige to this whole deal. Not the group – their leader’s on later. Dave Bradshaw notes that it’s been a decade since Dupree was released by WWE, which says something when you look at the path that say, Jinder Mahal’s had after his release three years ago!

Elgin launches into Dupree with a forearm, then a slam as the former IWGP Intercontinental champion took the advantage, scoring with a slingshot splash for a near-fall. Big Mike then throws in a hanging vertical suplex that the rowdy crowd were more than happy to count along to 30 for! Just like that though, Dupree hit back with an enziguiri, before giving way to a chop battle as Dupree ended up grounding MIke for an abdominal stretch.

Dupree’s attempt at a running forearm in the corner just earned him an Exploder as Mike bounced back with some avalanche clotheslines, before ducking a clothesline and planting Rene with a bridging German! Rene returns the favour, before landing a dropkick and inexplicably going outside to get a chair from the crowd. Jimmy Korderas tries to remove it, but gets shoved, and there’s our DQ finish. Such a rotten finish to a match that was only getting going. Sorry Big Mike, this isn’t on you. Why book someone if they’re going to have a problem losing clean? Or was this the plan all along? DUD.

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Canadian Qualifier – First Round: Franky The Mobster vs. Harry Smith
From the pre-match package, Harry Smith introduces himself by that name (using “Davey Boy Smith Jr.” as a nickname it seemed), whilst Franky the Mobster looks to be clinging onto an old name whilst playing a more modern version of Damien Demento.

The Bulldog heeled it up a bit, slamming Franky on the outside as he tried to get the crowd firmly on the side of the Mobster, before charging him into the apron. Back inside, Harry rushes into a camel clutch, then a surfboard stretch as he wore down on Franky’s back before using an eye rake to keep “FTM” down. I kinda like those initials…

FTM backdrops out of a piledriver as Alex Shane was back to his worst on commentary, riffing on a gag that should have been left alone. Franky’s missile dropkick gets a near-fall, but eventually he’s knocked down with a discus clothesline as Harry gets him another two-count. Harry tries for a superplex, but FTM bit his way free and followed in with a Blockbuster that almost won it for him… For the second match in a row though, there’s shenanigans as Harry pulls away the referee as he tried to escape a chokeslam. Once the ref was down, a low blow and a piledriver did the job as the junior bulldog made it to the second round. So… how was Rene Dupree shoving the ref a DQ and this not? Until that point it was a decent TV-style match, and Harry showed some character for once, so you win some, you lose some. **¾

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Canadian Qualifier – First Round: Mike Bailey vs. Brent Banks
The highlight video package before this was a little odd – with a whiffed dropkick being thrown in for some reason… “Dad Jokes” Alex Shane was on form again here, but we’ll gloss over him as much as we can.

Loud duelling chants started the match off, giving us our first taste of the white hot crowd. When we’re finally done with the chants, the pair start off evenly before Banks cheapshots and tries to goad Bailey, which is where the flips start to come into play. Lots of rope running and feints force Banks to the outside, before he returns to lay into “Speedball” with kicks and a knee to the gut. After they poke each other in the eyes, we get duelling kicks before Banks goes all Ricochet with a dropkick… then all Chris Jericho with some cocky pin attempts. Still, Brent kept the upper hand until Bailey started to throw some kicks, but he was able to avoid a standing Sliced Bread and throw in some kicks and punches of his own.

An axe kick from Bailey leads to a few attempts at a buzzsaw kick, eventually connecting for a near-fall. Another kick took Banks down, before Bailey’s flips sees him handspring into a Blue Thunder Bomb that nearly cost him! Bailey tried to return fire with a slingshot into the ring, eventually turning it into a sunset flip before rebounding off the middle rope into a PK. Bailey keeps up with a moonsault onto Banks on the floor as he started throwing in some more flips, including a slip-up on a somersault back into the ring.

Banks almost took the win after that, drilling Bailey into the corner, before having to kick out of a victory roll that Jimmy Korderas really wasn’t sure how to count for. Some shooting star knees got a more definitive two-count, as did a moonsault slam, but Banks sprung back with a springboard cutter then a Sliced Bread… but that’s also only good for a two-count.

The sprint continued with a sliding Flatliner from Banks, before his next attempt at a charge into the corner ended up with Bailey turning it into a Destroyer as another kick led to the shooting star knees as Bailey booked his place in the next round. This ended really hot, but this was a proverbial match of two halves – and one that’d have been even better had those minor slips not taken me out of things. ***¾

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Canadian Qualifier – First Round: Tyson Dux vs. Kyle O’Reilly
Tyson Dux pulled out of another booking for A1 Wrestling to do this show, with the hope of it leading to future gigs in the UK. Whoops!

O’Reilly opens up with some good ol’ fashioned wrestling, grounding Dux with submissions as he tried to go for a pin. Tyson more than matched him in the opening stages though, working over O’Reilly’s arm only for Kyle to come back and restrain Tyson with a headlock as he got the crowd to chant “Headlock City”. Eh, it’s a thing… Kyle kept going for the headlock, dragging Dux into the ring with one from the apron, and clinging onto it as Dux hit a side suplex. Heck, he goes back to it when Dux headed outside, allowing Kyle to high-five the front row, but with the referee unsighted Tyson kicks low and takes over as he went to work on Kyle’s knee.

Dux utilised some rather underhanded means, wrapping O’Reilly’s knee around the ringpost before going back to work with elbow drops to the left knee… but he managed to capture Tyson in impact with a cross armbreaker, and Dux gets free of the “Arm-ageddon” via a rope break. The pair run into each other during a sequence, but they don’t stay down for long as O’Reilly burst into life with a combination of kicks and slaps, before turning a side suplex into a kneebar on impact… but Dux grabbed one of his own at the same time!

Dux again breaks via the ropes, but O’Reilly again goes back to the arm with kicks as they target each other’s worn down body part, only for Tyson to land an Ace Crusher out of nowhere! From there, Dux chains together an atomic drop into a DDT as he then tried to force a submission with a figure four… which Kyle almost ended up getting pinned by as he laid flat out before rolling to the ropes.

A double clothesline followed to knock both men down, but Kyle goes back quickly to the strikes before a diving knee knocked Tyson down yet again. Kyle grabs a front facelock that looked to have ended it as he let go of Dux before the referee waved it off… before opting to go back to the strikes and set up a brainbuster that got a two-count, as the Arm-ageddon finally forced the submission. Technically this was sound, but there was nothing from this that made me want to see Tyson Dux again, as he crashed out of yet another tournament. ***½

WCPW Internet Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Gabriel Kidd (c)
These two had a good match when Kidd was in the middle of his losing run, although given how Kidd’s been booked since he won the title, I’m fully expecting a fluke finish.

Sabre and Kidd start off with some nice chain wrestling, with Sabre edging ahead by wrenching away on the arms of Kidd, To his credit, Kidd replied in kind, trying for toeholds on Sabre, but Zack was always a step ahead of the youngster, at least until Kidd resisted a drop toe hold and squatted free. Well, if it works for him…

Kidd started to take control with a wristlock, frustrating the challenger – whilst the video editor frustrated me with a series of rapid, almost glitchy cuts as Sabre twisted Kidd’s neck between his legs. A brutal double armbar follows as Kidd squirmed into the ropes, before Sabre’s uppercuts were cut-off with one from the champion.

A missile dropkick sends Sabre flying for a near-fall, but they continue to go back and forth until a snapping death valley driver lands Kidd a near-fall. Just like that though, Sabre hits back with a tornado DDT into a one-armed Dragon sleeper, but Kidd barely made the ropes to force another break. They trade a load of back-and-forth uppercuts before going for pinning attempts, which just angered Sabre into some stiff slaps… but Kidd replied in kind and went for a moonsault, which was caught and turned into a triangle armbar.

Somehow, Kidd powerbombed his way free, before escaping an Octopus hold by turning it into a Finlay roll… but Sabre ended up snapping into Kidd with a load of PKs in a bid to win, getting annoyed when Kidd flopped on his back to avoid another, but that just ended up being a ruse as Kidd suckered in Sabre for a small package to snatch the win!

Gabriel Kidd is slowly maturing as a performer, and although there’s a lot of things about his presentation that are letting him down – like him still loaning Prince Ameen’s music and entrance video style, despite that story having concluded a long time ago – this ultra-slow burn story is really starting to pay dividends… but I still insist, now he’s broken that losing streak, he needs to quit winning via flukes! ****

After the match, Kidd offered Zack a rematch – since they’re now one win apiece… whether that happens soon remains to be seen!

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Canadian Qualifier – Second Round: Harry Smith vs. Michael Elgin
Harry was still playing bad guy here after his rather underhanded win over Franky The Mobster, and it was more of the same here as he jumped Elgin in the corner to start the match as the pair brawled through the crowd in the opening stages of things.

Smith’s viciously throwing knees into Elgin as we barely can keep up with the brawl… and then someone shines a light as they’re found by the bar. Somehow Smith’s isn’t disqualifiable as he hits Elgin with a chair… and the favour’s returned as Alex Shane tells us that they’re holding back on DQs because of the unpopular decision in the opener.

When they return to the ring, Elgin takes a Dragon screw in the ropes as Harry worked over Elgin’s legs, complete with a figure four around the ringpost as it seemed that Harry wanted to keep Big Mike on the mat. That allowed Harry to grab a heel hook then a figure four to keep Big Mike at bay, helped by copious amounts of Ric Flair-style cheating. Grab that bottom rope Harry! An impressive bridging deathlock almost got the pinfall for Smith, who continued to tear apart on Elgin’s knee, but Mike hits back – literally – with a forearm, before landing an enziguiri to get him into his power game. A Falcon arrow gets a near-fall, since that move never wins matches, so Elgin throws Harry again with a German suplex, dumping him on the head!

Out of nowhere, Harry runs in with a pump kick for a near-fall, then heads to a Sharpshooter that Elgin broke via the ropes. Harry tries to follow up with a piledriver onto the apron, only for Elgin to boot free and knock Smith off the apron with a thud. A cannonball dive keeps Harry down there, before the pair returned to the ring to hit some duelling clotheslines… a second one is ducked as Jimmy Korderas cowered away from an accidental bump, allowing Smith to gleefully hit another low blow. Smith then called for the piledriver, but Elgin kicked out at two as the Phoenix Theatre exploded!

Another Sharpshooter followed, but Elgin turned it into a small package for a near-fall, before catching a missed kick from Smith and turning it into an Elgin Bomb for the win! Big Mike’s off to the finals in August! A good, old-school story of good overcoming bad – and after having seen a relatively bland Smith in the UK, it was nice to see him able to blend something else into his act alongside his solid in-ring stuff. ****

In the mind of Alex Shane, this was a shock result. How?!

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Canadian Qualifier – Second Round: Mike Bailey vs. Kyle O’Reilly
Watching this more than a month after it happened, I’ve heard a lot of praise for this match. It started off suitably cagey as O’Reilly and Bailey threw and feinted kicks , before O’Reilly tried to neutralise “Speedball”’s legs with a variety of grappling.

On the surface it seems like an intense, staccato match, with frenetic bursts of action before Kyle backed in the corner to try and let his leg heal up. Another flurry from Bailey led him into some ground and pound before they made the ropes for another breather before Bailey started to actively go after the bad leg, using a Dragon screw then a DDT to the left leg of the “Violent Artist”.

Some rapid-fire kicks in the corner eventually ended when O’Reilly took down Bailey with a capture suplex for a near-fall, and that’s where Kyle started to take over, going after leg and arm submissions as Bailey’s exhaustion started to become visible. Bailey countered an Arm-ageddon by rolling up Kyle for a near-fall, before throwing in a standing moonsault kneedrop as his kick-based offence almost pushed him into the tournament proper.

Bailey even managed to counter an armbreaker into a sleeperhold, but that’s quickly turned into a belly-to-back suplex as Kyle got a near-fall, before they started trading kicks to the chest, ending as Bailey landed a roundhouse kick to the had as both men crumbled to the mat. A second one followed into the corner, but Bailey decided to follow up with a running corkscrew star press… which O’Reilly caught and turned into a Kimura that Bailey tried to block by grabbing his own tights!

Eventually Bailey kneed out of the move, but he was quickly met with a brainbuster before Arm-ageddon was transitioned into an ankle lock… but somehow Bailey was able to drag his way to that bottom rope! Unfortunately, O’Reilly went straight back to the hold, only to get thrown to the outside for a Golden Triangle moonsault to the floor! He tries to follow up with the shooting star knees back in the ring, but there’s no water in the proverbial pool as he’s taken up for a superplex… but again Bailey keeps fighting free and succeeds at the second try as Speedball booked his place in the finals in August! That was absolutely amazing – telling a deliberate story from start to finish, with O’Reilly’s leg injury from the first match perhaps influencing things. Nevertheless, this was perhaps the best Speedball match I’ve seen in quite some time! ****¼

El Ligero vs. Joe Hendry
This is non-title – and given that I’m watching this show out-of-sequence, this is a pretty big plot hole that needs filling up since Ligero’s since joined the Prestige! Dave Bradshaw notes on commentary that if Ligero wins here, he’ll be in the mix for a title shot… you think?!

Joe Hendry’s heel run so far has been rather flat – not helped by WCPW’s sudden transition away from weekly shows – but save from the generic bitter shtick, there’s not much that’s been done since the Prestige were formed. Hendry cuts a promo beforehand, recognising that he’s been in Canada before… before heeling on the crowd by saying that his title’ll never be defended in Canada. Stuff like this isn’t helping his standing, especially as he started to dig at the crowd’s (previously non-existent) “10” chants.

Once Ligero refused to bail on the already-a-non-title-match, Hendry blasted his opponent with the title belt. Ligero demands the match starts anyway, but he starts off taking uppercuts in the corner before Hendry teased an early Freak of Nature. Ligero escapes and starts off with forearms and chops , before he’s forced to escape another Freak of Nature and take Hendry to the outside with an enziguiri.

They brawl through the crowd for a spell, with the return of my favourite: wandering crowd cameraman! We get a picture back as Ligero puts Hendry through a chair with a crossbody, but the tables keep turning as Ligero ends up on the bar and dives off of it with a flip senton onto Hendry below!

A ref bump follows as Ligero sidestepped an on-rushing Hendry in the ring, with the champion taking down Jimmy Korderas. That leads to a Mexican Wave for a visual pin as Jimmy’s still down, and Hendry throws in a low blow as we’re sticking to the basics of a heel champion, it seems. Hendry grabs a chair from the crowd to keep this motif going, but Ligero again hits a Mexican Wave for a second visual pin as a replacement ref arrived… to count a near-fall.

Ligero then teases a chairshot – which the referee blocks, but Hendry shoves Ligero into the ref for our second ref bump, before using the title belt again. Handily, Jimmy Korderas is pulled in to count a near-fall as we’re well on the way to cloning 2005 TNA main events.

Hendry takes it outside the ring again as he looks to set up a bank of empty seating, before whipping Ligero into those seats. Somehow, Ligero beat the count-out and flipped off Hendry, before countering a Freak of Nature into a small package. The counters continue as a C4L’s turned eventually into an ankle lock, with Hendry pulling Ligero away from the ropes to force the submission. I don’t like being this dismissive, but “it was a match” – pretty much a by-the-numbers outing that did little to reinforce Hendry as anything more than a generic heel. This act needs more time in the oven! ***

Hendry tried to put Ligero in a tree of woe for a little beat-down, but he’s stopped by Martin Kirby – who was in Canada despite not being cleared to wrestle – as we had a little something to build up for the then-upcoming Hendrymania show.

Like the rest of the Pro Wrestling World Cup qualifiers, this was a weird show to watch. If you take out the opener, we had some technically good matches, some questionable finishes… and a couple of WCPW matches to give us perhaps the best qualifying show to date. It’s just a shame that (at time of writing) less than 50,000 have seen the full show… Yeah, the usual commentary gripes persist, although I do put Alex Shane on a slight step ahead of Matt Striker in that department, in my mind they’re among the dirt-worst when it comes to colour commentary. Dad jokes and needless references are bearable every now and then, but that feels like 99% of their act!

We’re now halfway through the qualifiers, with Germany, Japan, USA and the rest of the world to go… and with names like Penta el Zero M, Will Ospreay and now the pairing of Mike Bailey and Michael Elgin qualifying so far, finals week is going to be massively enticing!