We’re back from Germany, so let’s take a look at a show that proved to be an eventful start to the weekend – we’re back to the Inner Circle!

We’re from a packed wXw Academy in Essen, and we have Andy Jackson live on tape. The show opens with Jay Skillet coming to the ring, while Andy tramples over the intros. Skillet asks why he’s not in the main event, and talks about all of the withdrawals… to which one fan seemingly wanted him added to that list.

Anyway, Jay introduces his “fresh gang” for the opening trios match – it’s Alexander Dean (and his Banjo Nasties) and Rust Taylor!

Alexander Dean, Jay Skillet & Rust Taylor vs. The Pretty Bastards (Maggot & Prince Ahura) & The Rotation
We’ve got some trios action to start with, and it’s a pleasant return for the Rotation, who’s been slowly appearing on more and more shows.

There’s some debate as the teams swap corners, before we started with Maggot and Dean, but it’s the Irishman who has Maggot downed early on, only for Maggot to respond with a Thesz press before tags got us to Taylor and Ahura. After a PWG-inspired shoutout, Taylor looked to push the issue but got chopped around by Ahura, prompting him to go for an armbreaker, lifting and spinning Ahura by the limb to try and force a submission.

Ahura escapes as tags brought in Rotation and Skillet. There’s some irony as Skillet threatened “no rotations!” before he delivered a snapmare. That’s a rotation. Rotation issues a receipt, with a kick to the back before headscissors and a mighty dropkick dumped Skillet for a two-count. Tags bring in Ahura, then Maggot, as the Bastards double-team with an electric chair splash for a near-fall, before Skillet pulled Ahura into the bottom rope to spark some triple-teaming.

Alexander Dean’s in with a snapmare and a low dropkick to Ahura, before a poke to the eye from Taylor put the American in control. Skillet’s back in to get met with Schürrle chants, including some new additions, but still the bad guys remained in control until Ahura gave everyone the slip and made the tag out.

Maggot unleashes with right hands, before dumping Taylor with a spear. Skillet shoves Maggot into the corner, where Rotation blind-tags in, but he’s met with an axe kick from Taylor as the ring began to fill up. The ring cleared as the Bastards double-teamed with dives to take out Skillet and Taylor on the outside, before Dean pulled away Rotation’s dive and trapped him in a crossface/chinbar for the submission. A nice way to establish Dean (and his wacky music) as a threat, as the night started out with a defeat for the fan favourites. ***

After the match, Dean interrupted Thommy Giesen’s announcement and dealt with more Irish abuse… then challenged Avalanche to a Shotgun title match on Saturday.

James Runyan vs. Dominic Garrini
A preview of Ambition on Sunday, and we got some “Terra Ryzing” chants for Runyan’s wXw debut. I mean, there’s a passing likeness, I guess?

As you’d expect, we start off with holds as Garrini tried to roll down Runyan in a leg lock, but the Canadian blocked it, before some rolling led to the pair ending in the ropes. From the restart, Garrini’s leglock’s countered into almost a single-leg crab, before he flipped Runyan back into a cross armbar. Garrini keeps the advantage, as he rolled into a rear naked choke, but Runyan’s’ able to escape with a leg grapevine as the pair went back-and-forth on the mat. Great for fans of the technical stuff, but it led to a lot of background murmuring as folks away from ringside struggled to peek through the crowd.

A Judo throw from Runyan takes down Garrini, as did some knee strikes and a roll-through cross armbar, then a modified crossface as the Ogdens tried to get behind Garrini. Runyan escaped a deathlock by grabbing a chinlock, but Garrini gets the ropes, then caught a leg and dumped Runyan with a German suplex for a near-fall.

Garrini keeps up the pressure with a leaping knee and a short piledriver, and that’s enough for the win! A bit of a Marmite match, but this came off better on VOD than it did live purely by being able to see! ***

Now the incidents… this next match was meant to be Timothy Thatcher and Veit Müller against the Work Horsemen, but Veit wasn’t there… so Timo had a choice to make. But first, wXw had to find some back-up lights as the mains lighting died right as Thatcher walked to the ring.

Fortunately, the crowd turned on their camera flashes and did a damn good job of bathing the ring in light so Thatcher could tell us who his new partner was: Norman Harras! Live, they went to a break so they could illuminate the venue with the light boxes that they use for to-camera pieces… and it’s a really effective job as we come back (after Thatcher went looking for freedom…) to a well-lit room for what Thommy called “a semi-dark match”.

Norman Harras & Timothy Thatcher vs. Work Horsemen (Anthony Henry & JD Drake)
For those who don’t keep track, Harras debuted on the main roster about a year ago, and has had a tour of Canada – but has largely been considered “one for the future”.

Harras and Drake start us off, but Norman perhaps was a bit naive in thinking he could go for a German suplex early, as the pair instead trade holds, then chops… and yes, Norman’s rocked. Drake tries to cave his chest in as Anthony Henry’s almost peeing himself laughing, as it’s a veritable beating that’s being given out to the newcomer.

Henry decides he wants some too, throwing in kicks as the Essen crowd marvelled in this, while Timo… just held out a hand in case Norman wanted a tag. The crowd recognised Harras’ heart, and got behind him as he fought back, diving into Henry with an uppercut before Timo came into play. Thatcher’s uppercut sent Henry down to the mat hard, but a Dragon screw turned it around… until Thatcher scooped up Henry and slammed him down.

Tags get us back to Drake and Harras, which is unfortunate for Norman, but he takes his shots until Thatcher came in to help stop some double-teaming, pounding Drake into the corner with forearms. Henry tries to stop it, but he’s taken down into a leg lock, allowing Thatcher to pull out a drawing pin from his boot – still there after his appearance at Fight Club Pro’s Death House – and jab it in Henry’s shin. Except Henry’s had tattoos and is used to pain, so he just wrestled the pin and jabbed it into Thatcher’s chest. Utter madmen, the pair of them.

A slap and a single leg crab had Henry in a bit more trouble, but he’s able to tag out to Drake, as the two hosses threw uppercuts and knees before Harras willingly tagged in. He’s no longer scared of Drake, throwing clotheslines before Drake decides to chop him silly again, leading to a Black Hole Slam for a near-fall.

Henry returns to tie-up Harras in knots, before Drake swung for the fences on the rookie, dumping him to the mat for a Vader bomb… but Harras rolls away! Somehow, Norman lands that German suplex he’d been threatening from the off, then dished one out to Henry before tagging in Thatcher, who instantly bounced Henry with a rebound belly-to-belly. A nice flip-up from Henry into the top rope only ends with him leaping into an uppercut before Drake came in for more chops.

Harras is back, but gets dumped with a clothesline by Drake, who then pulled him in for a moonsault… it misses, as Harras lariats his way back in, landing a scoop slam a la Randy Orton for a near-fall. Henry turns it back around with some kicks, while a spinning backfist from Drake dispatched of Thatcher as Harras ended up in the corner for a brutal cannonball and a Drill Bit from Drake for the win. It’s a defeat for Harras, but my God he opened a lot of eyes here with his showing, coming from nowhere to take a beating and come close. Keep an eye on that name – you’ll see it a lot, I reckon… ****

Leyla Hirsch vs. Sammii Jayne
A straight-up preview of their Femmes Fatales match on Saturday, and the start of what’d be a big weekend for Hirsch…

We start with both women hitting the ropes, but it’s Hirsch who strikes first with a low dropkick, before she took Jayne into the corner for some running knees. Sammii throws some clubbering forearms to push ahead with, only to get caught in a cross armbar that led to a quick rope break.

A crossbody from Hirsch got caught and turned into a fallaway slam, but Hirsch responds with a barrage of forearms and another running knee, before a quick German suplex and a clothesline put Leyla back on top. At least until Sammii caught her in the ropes and landed the Shadowfax baseball slide German suplex for a quick two-count. Sammii rages at the ref for what she thought was a slow count, before landing an enziguiri, but Leyla grabs her for a Saito suplex before a double-jump moonsault landed at the second attempt.

Knees from Sammii drop Leyla again, almost winning the match as well, before Leyla had to escape a submission attempt before rolling Sammii to the mat in a cross armbar for the submission. A good, come-from-behind win, even if the crowd were a little off because of the situation. ***

Alexander James vs. Daniel Makabe
It’s Vancouver Makabe here today, as he made his Germany debut for wXw.

We’ve another grappling-heavy match here, as we start with James and Makabe looking for holds. It’s Makabe who edges ahead early, using grounded headscissors before he looked for a wristlock, but it was James who got free and looked to bend Makabe’s arm in ways it shouldn’t go. Still, it meant we got a peek of Daniel’s Destroyer tattoo, so, swings and roundabouts.

Makabe’s back in with a toe-hold that turned into a Trailer Hitch… but James lands by the ropes, as the pair proceed to try their luck with leg locks, ensuring they remained at close quarters. Elbows from James take Makabe into the corner, but Makabe gets free and lands a dropkick before James lifts him onto the apron… which just prompted a lucha roll back into the ring that ended in a STF.

After a break, James breaks away the arms only for Makabe to strike back with a KUSHIDA-like wind-up punch and a German suplex for a near-fall. James counters Makabe by lifting him to the ropes for the Rains of Castamere… but Makabe holds on and manages to come down with a missile dropkick instead, before a second wind-up punch was blocked. The Rains of Castamere follow, but Makabe kicks out… only for James to roll him into a wristlock… but Makabe got free and locked in a knee bar, then another Trailer Hitch, only for James to get free.

A gutwrench attempt sees James fall down as Makabe tries to snatch a win from there, before a Euro Clutch led to another near-fall, but second time was the charm for James, as he walloped Makabe with a clothesline before landing the gutwrench sit-out powerbomb for a near-fall, then tied up Makabe in a deathlock/armbar combo for the submission. Much like Garrini/Runyan earlier, a lot of this was lost to those at the back of the room, but on VOD this was another grand slice of grappling that will likely fly under a lot of radars. It shouldn’t. ***¼

Anti-Fun Police (Chief Deputy Dunne & Los Federales Santos Jr.) vs. ¿Schadenfreude? (Kyle Fletcher & Lucky Kid)
Big pops for the Anti-Fun Police having a somewhat pornographic theme. It’d be apropos later in the weekend…

We started with Lucky hugging Chief Deputy Dunne, only for the Chief to take him down in a hammerlock… restraining him because hugs are too much fun. A knee to the gut keeps Dunne ahead, before low dropkicks from Lucky turned the match around. In comes Santos, who was stunned that Lucky was trying to slam him… but anyone could have told you it wasn’t going to happen so soon.

So Lucky tags in “big boy Kyle” to try his luck, as Andy’s damn near speechless on commentary about Santos’ “Big Papi Pump” line. “What is happening here?” is a damn fine question, Andy… Shoulder tackles from Kyle prove fruitless, but Santos couldn’t budge Fletcher either, as the pair burst into some lucha that had everyone gobsmacked. Santos breaks out the No Fun Gun, prompting Lucky to leap in to “take the bullet”, but Kyle yelled at Lucky that “it’s just his hand”. How is Kyle the only one in on it?!

The Anti-Fun Police make him pay with a backbreaker/kneedrop combo, but Kyle’s able to get free and tag in Lucky, who had his way with the police, including setting up for an Asai DDT/accidental DDT combo that almost ended the match. A neck crank keeps Dunne down as Lucky rolled in for a crossface, as the Anti-Fun Police were in the wrong corner and on the defensive.

Well, until Santos came in and ploughed through everyone, dumping Fletcher with an End of Days for a near-fall. Kyle tries to fight back, but he falls back on a slam attempt as it was Lucky’s turn to try and restore order… but he’s taken down with a spinning heel kick-assisted German suplex for a near-fall. A handspring back elbow takes down Dunne and Santos, before Kyle returned to blast through Dunne with a powerbomb… along with a cheeky kick from Lucky on the way down for a near-fall.

Lucky then turns into Lykos… but the elevated lungblower backfires as Dunne swings back in for a 999 on Kyle. Second time was the charm for the sick effing tag moves, but Santos breaks up the cover as all four men ended up in the ring. Lucky’s leaping knee stuns Santos ahead of an eventual crossbody, before Santos nails a Destroyer off the top ahead of a springboard lungblower from Dunne for a near-fall. Santos keeps the pressure up with a Big Ending on Lucky, only to get slammed by Kyle moments later. Lucky slips off the rope during a springboard cutter attempt, but he gets it at the second try as Kyle proceeds to score the win with a Gotch tombstone. Some decent stuff here, but live this felt like it went too long – particularly after the earlier delays. ***

Post-match, Lucky Kid got the mic… and offered out that one fan who was shouting for Pete Bouncer all night. Kyle offered a roadblock as cooler heads prevailed, before Lucky declared this the start of things for Schadenfreude. It was fun seeing the look on Kyle’s face after he’d been told exactly what Lucky had said – especially when it was putting over Kyle!

All-in, this perhaps was the most memorable Inner Circle we’ve been to, with the wrestling (ahem) being overshadowed mostly by the lighting issues. If you’re tempted to skip over this as a “non-canon” show, at least dive in to see the birth of Norman Harras as a star to a new audience – and stay for some of the mat-based action if you’re into it.