16 Carat Gold week kicked off with a mystery show as the tradition continued at a packed wXw Wrestling Academy in Essen.

We were fortunate enough to be there live… commentary comes from Alan Counihan, who unfortunately missed out on the live experience this weekend.

Julian Pace vs. Rust Taylor
Julian took no precautions here, using some hand sanitizer on his way to the ring, while touching boots with fans rather than slapping hands. Coronavirus.

Rust starts out by taking Pace into the ropes as we started with headlock takedowns and escapes. Pace couldn’t escape a swinging armbar, as Ruse ends up taking him back down to the mat, before he kipped up out of the armbar and used armdrags and dropkicks to take down the American. Taylor takes over again though, working Pace into a Romero special… but Julian’s able to lean back to the ropes… only for Rust to break and stomp him for it. A jawbreaker only offered Pace some reprieve as Taylor remained relentless with his offence, tying up Pace with an abdominal stretch.

Pace gets free and turns up the, ahem, pace ahead of a dropkick, before a rolling thunder neckbreaker drops Taylor. A BME’s aborted as Taylor hit back with strikes, only to run into a Spanish Fly from Pace for a near-fall. Taylor’s taken outside for a tope con giro, but Rust’s right back in it as he ties up Pace in a strait-jacket hold. In the end though, Julian escapes and manages to work his way into the BME for the win. A solid opener, with Julian getting some momentum going into Carat weekend. ***

Goldenboy Santos vs. Avalanche
Santos – who is currently the wXw Academy cup champion – came out here bragging about this being “his house”. Sadly, there’s no Timothy Thatcher to evict him here, but there was someone else ready to put him in his place: the new wXw academy head coach, Avalanche!

Santos tries to take Avalanche into the corner, but he’s pushed away as Avalanche chewed out Santos for the hair pull. Of course, it doesn’t work as Avalanche blasts back in, taking down Santos with clotheslines as the Portuguese native was sent to the outside. Santos dared Avalanche to come outside, which he did… but not the way he expected, as the Austrian was a step ahead of the young upstart.

As Avalanche had the referee distracted, Santos removed a turnbuckle pad… and proceeded to pull Avalanche shoulder-first into it. Tassilo Jung takes an age to reattach the pads, because wXw use string rather than any sort of zip ties or clasps, but Santos is able to keep the momentum, landing a death valley driver for a near-fall. Impressive strength! Santos then ruins it by making Avalanche look at it, and he’s quickly met with a big back body drop. Always pops me. From there, a shoulder tackle takes down Santos before a fallaway slam and a Dreissker bomb gets the win. A good showing from Santos, but the teacher once again overwhelmed the student. ***

The Rotation vs. Hektor vs. Vaughn Vertigo vs. Marius Al-Ani
A mystery four-way’s next – and it’s the first time we’ve seen Vaughn Vertigo since the Pro Wrestling Clash barn show last year.

al-Ani tries to clear house at the bell, but he’s taken into the corner with dropkicks from Rotation and Vertigo as this was a little wild to start off with. A punch from Marius just takes down Rotation’s springboard, before al-Ani focused on Hektor with some punches… Vertigo and Rotation come back in with roll-up ‘ranas as the flyers looked to push ahead. Rotation springboards on the top rope to avoid swipes from al-Ani and Hektor ahead of a lucha armdrag to Marius, but he slips on his way back into the ring and ends up recovering with a satellite DDT on al-Ani. Hektor’s back but gets pulled out of the corner by Vertigo, who followed in with an overhead kick in the ropes and an Arabian press.

Marius stops Vaughn’s momentum, but he absorbs a senton to the back from Vertigo before finishing off the Canadian with a Diamond Driver. A little brief, but full of action for the time they had. **¾

Jay Skillet vs. Levaniel
…or should that be, Absolute Lev-Andy? The Flamingo of wXw even gets the water splashing down too!

“Has Absolute Lev-Andy killed Absolute Andy?” – Alan. “When the cake is speaking, the crumpets are silent”. Holy hell. This killed me. Lev-Andy talks about losing matches recently, and has Andy’s speaking patterns down pat.

Lev-Andy starts by going for an F5, but Skillet kicks out at two, then rolled outside as the pair scrapped around ringside, before they returned to the ring, where Skillet took control, stomping a mudhole through Lev-Andy in the corner. A dropkick to the back of the head gets a two-count, as does a knee drop, before Skillet began to trash-talk Levaniel… who fought back on the way to a double clothesline.

Levaniel’s back up with a stalling suplex, but the Absolute Knee is pushed away. A spinebuster works for Levaniel though, before Skillet drilled Lev-Andy with a superkick. Another spinebuster helps Lev-Andy as he prepared for a Sharpshooter, but he loses grip as Skillet got to the ropes. Skillet tries to charge at Levaniel… who sidesteps as Jay put on the brakes. Still reading from the Absolute Andy playbook, Levaniel feigns having been hit with a low blow. Except Tassilo Jung hadn’t gone down and saw everything. From there, a superkick and an F5 gets a near-fall, before a Samoan driver got the job done. Entertaining as hell – Levaniel was fantastic comic relief over the weekend, and his performance here was top notch. ***¼

Stephanie Maze vs. Killer Kelly
It’s an Inner Circle debut for Maze, who’s only just started appearing on the wXw Academy shows. She’s got a heck of a mountain to climb here though, taking on a Killer Kelly who would have her own issues this weekend.

Maze feints some kicks early on, and tests Kelly with a kick to the leg, before using some headscissors on the mat that forced Kelly to bridge her way free. Maze tries a headlock, but Kelly counters with a headlock takedown as the tit-for-tat continued. A suplex gets Maze a two-count, but Kelly’s right back with a cross-chop to the throat and a running boot in the corner. A PK’s ducked as Maze tried to fight back, but she ends up eating that PK for a near-fall before Kelly locked on a cravat. Capture headbutts follow, but Maze escapes a butterfly suplex as ends up making do with a leg lariat. Then the butterfly suplex follows for a near-fall, but Maze is back with kicks to the hamstrings as Kelly’s taken down for some mid kicks to the chest.

A Saito suplex from Maze gets her a near-fall, but Kelly’s right back in with a shotgun dropkick. The Shibata-ish dropkick followed, but Maze is back in with a Samoan drop… for a one-count that she broke herself. From there, a German suplex and Vale de Morte from Kelly put Maze away. The VOD managed to hide some of the issues that people had with this live – but it’d be nice to see this match again in a year when both women have had more reps under their belts. **½

Scotty Davis vs. Shigehiro Irie
The Irish were more than happy to see Scotty Davis here… but Scotty’s smile quickly faded when Shigehiro Irie came out.

Davis tries to restrain Irie early by going for a suplex, but Irie bulldozes through him before Scotty finally found luck with Gator Roll suplexes. A Pele kick takes Irie outside for a moonsault off the apron… but a headbutt waits for Scotty on the floor as Irie proceeded to club him down. Back in the ring, Davis took Irie to the ropes, but chops may have been a bad idea as Irie absorbs them before he blasted through Scotty in the corner. A slam leads to the Earthquake sit-out splash on Davis, before a Black Hole Slam gets Irie a near-fall. Davis responds with an overhead belly-to-belly, before some boxing wore out Irie, whose Beast Bomber was countered nearly into an Angle Slam for a near-fall.

Irie recovers and POUNCES Davis into the corner, but Scotty’s quickly back with suplexes – including a cross-legged suplex that’s stopped. A forearm and a standing moonsault is more effective as Davis gets a near-fall, before Irie countered, catching Davis on the top rope with an avalanche Samoan drop. A murderous cannonball into the corner obliterates Scotty next for a near-fall, before a Beast Bomber puts the Supreme Suplex Machine away. Lovely stuff – Scotty wasn’t overawed, but was largely overpowered as Shigehiro Irie announced his return to Germany in fine style. ****

Chris Ridgeway & Daniel Makabe vs. Daisuke Ikeda & Yuki Ishikawa
If you love your mat-based wrestling, then this is going to be right up your alley! It certainly was up Alan’s alley on commentary – he could barely contain his glee!

Ishikawa and Makabe start off grappling on the mat, with Ishikawa’s ankle lock forcing Makabe to the ropes, where Ikeda was looking to get in a dig of his own. Makabe looks for an arm, but has to slip out of a choke before Ishikawa caught him with headscissors in the ropes. Tags bring in Ikeda and Ridgeway, who went to ground looking for duelling heel hooks, before a knuckle lock from Ikeda earned him a pinning attempt. Ridgeway kicks out and finds his way into a front chancery, before the pair reached their true calling. Kicks.

Ikeda landed a few, before Ridgeway caught one of them, as Ishikawa returned to pick up the slack. Ridgeway has more luck with his kicks then, kicking Ishikawa’s leg out of his leg as Makabe gets the tag back in… but is quickly on the defensive as Ishikawa got his back. Makabe freed himself with a toe hold as the pair went back and forth, as Ishikawa rolled into an armbar.

Tags bring us back to Ikeda and Ridgeway, with Ridgeway uncorking some hard kicks to the back before a front chancery looked to squeeze out a submission, but Ikeda got to the ropes and brought back Ishikawa as those two again tried to grab a leg, only for Ridgeway to roll into the ropes as he was about to grab a hold. Referee Felix Schulz had to separate Ridgeway and Ishikawa in the corner as the pair proceeded to batter each other with forearms, but it’s a body blow from Ridgeway that finds a way through as Makabe tagged back in. A corner dropkick kept up the pressure, as did a Big Unit punch, but Ishikawa kicks out and ends up taking a Regal-plex for a near-fall.

Ikeda’s back in to punch Makabe in the head, before a slam looked to set up for a Daichan Bomber… but Makabe avoids it and tags out. Ridgeway looks to hit an ankle lock, but instead grabbed a leg lock… forcing Ishikawa to saunter in and elbow drop it free. It didn’t quite work as Ridgeway keeps hold, as Makabe came in to restrain Ishikawa with a STF until Ikeda managed to get to the ropes. Forearms from Ridgeway led to him getting caught with a rear naked choke, but he breaks free… only to take a short-range Daichan Bomber before a head kick put Ridgeway down for the count. A little abrupt, but this was a fantastic little scrap for fans of the style. Usually these types of matches don’t connect well in the wXw Academy, particularly in front of bigger crowds. That absolutely wasn’t the case here! ****¼

With two matches for the proverbial notebook, Inner Circle was a cracking little show to prepare us all for 16 Carat Gold. Coming in at 1h 40, it was an easy watch too – and one that you should definitely make time for, especially for the top two matches on the card!