16 Carat Gold weekend kicked off in style as a packed wXw Academy in Essen witnessed a thrilling main event at the Inner Circle.

The entire event is under 90 minutes long on wXw NOW – so it’s a nice, easy watch. Commentary (in English) from Rico Bushido, flying solo.

David Starr vs. Jay Skillet
Skillet tries to run away from Starr, who responded by laying down in a bid to draw the Andre Schürlle lookalike in. It worked, as Starr managed to go for the arm, before he out-chopped Skillet with ease.

In response, Skillet throws Starr into the rope, leading to a rather rude landing as Skillet began a period on top… even if he couldn’t really get much in the way of pinning attempts going, with Starr kicking out from a snapmare and a dropkick. Still, at least Skillet manages to live up to his look-a-like, putting the boots to Starr, only to get caught with a backbreaker and a thrust kick before more chops pinned Skillet into the corner.

The Pretty Pumped is next as the inside-out slam gets a near-fall, before Skillet hit back with a superkick. Except he didn’t – as he pulled a Marty and yelled “Schürlle Kick!” to confuse Starr into lowering his guard as the superkick hit. That’ll get over. A suplex is next for a near-fall from Skillet, who began to duck some wild shots from Starr before he ran into a lariat. A to-be-named over-the-knee powerbomb’s next, and that’s all as Starr got the win to catch commentary off guard. A fun, brief, opening match, that had us all thinking Starr was going to go far in Carat… ***

Julian Pace vs. Francis Kaspin vs. Chris Brookes vs. Avalanche
A four-way’s next, as we got to see Avalanche’s own tribute to the late King Kong Bundy.

Being the only bad guy in the match, Kaspin became a human pinball early on – but he’s quickly on the outside as Chris Brookes was left dumbfounded as Julian Pace lived up to his name. Avalanche cuts off a dive and just hurls Pace into the corner, before he pulled Kaspin into the ring… as Kaspin was clinging onto his leg!

From that paragraph, you can probably guess that this four-way was breathless – with the action barely stopping. Julian Pace heads outside with a tope con giro into the other three as even Rico Bushido had trouble keeping up. Back in the ring, Brookes slingshots Julian Pace head-first into Francis Kaspin’s groin, before Avalanche hit his version of EVIL’s Darkness Falls for a near-fall.

Pace just bounces off of Avalanche with a crossbody off the top, but the recent Academy graduate manages to come back with a rolling thunder neckbreaker… except Kaspin sidestepped it, and then went on to try and steal the pin. Of course, it doesn’t work as Avalanche is back with a belly-to-belly and a big splash for a two-count, only for Pace to break that up with a moonsault off the top. In the end, Avalanche and Pace were unable to get back to their feet as Chris Brookes took the win with a Praying Mantis Bomb on Kaspin – ending a breathless sprint. I liked this one very much – an absolute nightmare to recap, for it’s six-minutes of ring time but all kinds of fun live. ***¼

Jurn Simmons vs. Kyle Fletcher
Well, the bell rings and Jurn gets mocked for his lack of hair. I’d have joined in, but that’d be throwing stones in a glass house…

Kyle joined in though, polishing Jurn’s dome as he went for an armbar. Fletcher shined it up real nice before he started to charge into Jurn with shoulder tackles, eventually knocking the Dutchman down with a leaping shoulder block. From there, the pair fight for a suplex, but it’s Kyle who lands the shock suplex for a two-count, only for Jurn to respond with a spin-out side slam as he looked to assert himself. Suplex-like throws hurl Fletcher across the ring amid chants of “Jurn Simmons Sucks” (to the tune of John Cena’s theme). A boot to the gut’s next ahead of a Massive Boot, almost ending the match for Jurn, but Kyle’s back as he tries to hit a piledriver, only for Jurn to power free as a Doctor Bomb dumped Fletcher for a solid two-count.

Another piledriver attempt from Jurn almost backfires as Fletcher tries Death by Roll-Up for a near-fall, before he powerbombs Jurn out of the corner. A Massive Boot from Kyle almost led to him beating Jurn with his own move, before Jurn charges Fletcher into the corner, unsighting the referee as a low blow and a piledriver got the win. Clocking in at just over nine minutes, this wasn’t a mad sprint like the last match, but still a really good outing as Kyle continues to assert his heavyweight status. ***

Mark Davis vs. Ilja Dragunov
One of the two matches announced for the show, this had all the makings of what JR would call a slobberknocker.

They shoot out of the gates as Davis takes down Dragunov, only for Ilja to come right back with a cravat as he tried to twist off the Aussie’s head early. That gives way to headscissors as the feeling out process continued, with Ilja getting caught in a side headlock except he countered back with more headscissors as Davis had to break in the ropes.

Eventually the ground stuff gave way to the pair trying their hand with shoulder blocks, with Davis easily knocking down Dragunov before he connected with a high five. Ilja’s back with a spinning backfist and a back senton, before a backflip off the apron led to another lariat for a near-fall. A leaping enziguiri keeps Ilja ahead, before a 619-like swivel in the ropes came to night as Davis powers him away before a back senton of his own flattened Ilja for a near-fall.

Chops come next from Davis, who followed through with a clothesline to send a punch-drunk Dragunov falling out of the corner. Just like that, Ilja finds his second wind as he battered Davis with body blows and a knee to the ribs, before he ran into a sit-down splash out of the corner for a near-fall. More chops from Ilja ring around the venue, as do receipts from Davis, before a 619-lariat almost put the Aussie away.

A pancake from Davis looked to lead to a powerbomb, but Dragunov floats out and hit back with a Saito suplex, only for Davis to take him into the corner for a sliding punch. The Gold Coast Waterslide’s next for a near-fall, only for Ilja to counter with a death valley driver into the turnbuckles. One more back senton flattens Davis, before the Torpedo Moscau connected for the win. Suitably hard-hitting, with Dragunov taking the win – as you’d expect for a tournament favourite. ***¼

Killer Kelly vs. Yuu
A rematch from the Road to Back to the Roots at the end of last year – and with Killer Kelly getting a title match on Sunday, she’ll be hoping for a better result than last time.

Kelly’s straight in with a Japanese strangle hold, but Yuu manages to slip free as Kelly took her back to the mat in a headlock, forcing Yuu to fight her way free. Problem was, Kelly grabbed a front facelock as they continued to counter in and out of each other’s holds. Kelly’s forced to roll up Yuu to counter an armbreaker attempt, before she ran into a spinning sidewalk slam… only to miss a follow-up back senton. A cravat from Kelly keeps Yuu restrained, before a spin kick and a running knee strike put her down for a two-count. Yuu catches a pump kick in the corner and just throws Kelly to the mat before a shotgun dropkick put the first wXw women’s champion in the corner. Kelly hits back with some capture headbutts and a butterfly suplex into the corner, following in with the Shibata-ish dropkick.

From there, Kelly looks for a fireman’s carry, but Yuu slipped out and went for a katahajime, eventually getting it after a Judo-style takedown, trapping Kelly in the middle of the ring. Kelly rolls back to try and get a pin out of it, but Yuu breaks the hold to kick out, before she’s caught in a rolling death valley driver for the win. A nice competitive match, but there was ever only going to be one winner here. ***

RINGKAMPF (Timothy Thatcher & WALTER) vs. Shigehiro Irie & Yuki Ishikawa
Once again, Timothy Thatcher’s looking for freedom, and he started out against Ishikawa as we got a preview of Saturday’s Ambition superfight.

Thatcher and Ishikawa keep it on the mat, but couldn’t find an opening, so Ishikawa tagged in Irie, who instantly has to try and block an armbar, before Thatcher tagged out to WALTER. There’s a teased chop from WALTER, who instead backs off as Irie came in with a headlock, trying to keep WALTER at close quarters before they began to trade shoulder blocks. A boot from WALTER stops that briefly, as Irie keeps hitting the ropes before he got dumped with a bodyslam. Irie’s back with a slam of his own, as both men tagged out, bringing us back to Ishikawa and Thatcher, who took great delight in laying into each other with forearms and headbutts.

Ishikawa looked for a rear naked choke, but Thatcher manages to roll out and enter the guard as he threw a kick to the veteran… who then managed to avoid a Boston crab as the Ambition preview continued with both men neutralising each other once more. WALTER’s back in to forearm through Ishikawa… but Yuki’s got forearms too before he dragged down WALTER, who was noticeably wearing amateur-style wrestling shoes rather than traditional boots here. An armbreaker’s next from Ishikawa, before he got pulled into a Gojira clutch as Thatcher ran in to stop Irie from breaking it up… but somehow Ishikawa’s able to get free and work the arm, as Timothy Thatcher was providing extremely polite coaching from the corner. Seriously, that’s not me trying to crack wise – Thatcher was calling WALTER “Sir” and everything while giving guidance.

Thatcher tags back in as Ishikawa offered him the guard, but he gets trapped face-down on the mat before Irie came in with a takedown of his own as he began to work a more grappling-based style than we’re used to seeing. A head-and-arm triangle forces Thatcher into the ropes before Thatcher rolled Irie off his back as he went to work a toe hold. WALTER’s back in, but he’s quickly caught by Irie in the mount… who tags out to Ishikawa to keep up the beating from above as Yuki aimed for the ribs. A slap from WALTER gets him free, but Ishikawa goes back to the ankle as the Austrian had to smother his opponent en route to a head-and-arm triangle. Ishikawa manages to grab an ankle to get free, but WALTER just tags out as Thatcher comes in like a rabid dog, aiming for Ishikawa with a cross armbreaker… except Ishikawa gets out and manages to grapevine Thatcher’s legs with a deathlock.

Irie’s back in to wallop through Thatcher with a forearm, before he grounded Thatcher with a chinlock on the mat. Taking the back, a forearm smash to the back gets Irie a near-fall, before Thatcher struck back with a belly-to-belly off the ropes for a near-fall. WALTER’s back to use a side headlock to ground Irie again, but the ropes proved to be Irie’s saviour again, allowing him to come back into a chop battle.

Thatcher eggs on WALTER, as forearms and chops rang around the academy in Essen, before Irie captured all of his limbs and threw a headbutt. A Sambo suplex from WALTER dumps Irie immediately for a near-fall, before Irie back body dropped out of a powerbomb attempt. A big boot from WALTER just sends Irie into the ropes for a lariat, as both men tagged out once again, giving us more Ishikawa and Thatcher goodness. The two continued to flow seamlessly as Thatcher gets trapped in the middle of the ring in an armbar, before Ishikawa repositioned into a Fujiwara armbar, only for WALTER to roll in and… CHOP his partner free.

Ishikawa catches a boot and Dragon screws WALTER away as Irie’s back to blast through Thatcher with some Vader-like body blows. Thatcher’s forced to cover up in the corner, before he was charged into with a cannonball for a near-fall. An enziguiri from Thatcher gets him back in it, as does a butterfly suplex, before the search for a cross armbreaker ended with Irie rolling into the guard… only for Thatcher to come right back with a Fujiwara armbar for the submission. This was GLORIOUS. It’s oh too easy to fall into the trap of grappling back and forth without getting the crowd invested – but this match managed to avoid all of that. Sure, it helped that the crowd were up for this, but the exchanges between Thatcher and Ishikawa in particular were buttery smooth, and left everyone wanting so much more when it came to Ambition on Saturday. ****½

As always, Inner Circle was an excellent “warm up” for the festival weekend – with perhaps the most consistent line-up seen yet. Having attended this live, the show breezed by, with the opening half being done in an hour, with the fast-paced action being lapped up by a fervent crowd. We keep saying this, but you don’t “need” to have long matches for the sake of it – and this show is living proof that you can have good wrestling without the show ever threatening like it would ever drag.

Tickets for these Inner Circle shows are like gold dust… and with nights like this, it’s not hard to see why!