It was the night before Carat, and 170 fans packed out wXw’s academy in Essen for what’s now becoming a traditional show ahead of wXw’s festival weekends!

We’ve got an excitable Christian Bischof and Sebastian Hollmichel on the German call for this show, with Christian Michael Jakobi filling in for the unwell Thommy Giesen as the ring announcer… and it’s right into the action!

Travis Banks vs. Alexander James
I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn this was a first time ever match!

Banks started off with a waistlock as he and James fought for a body part early on… quickly giving way to James swerving some stomps and kicks as Banks seemingly tried to do a Fred Yehi! Commentary’s very keen to get across how even James was against the PROGRESS champion, with Banks pulling himself to the ropes to get away from James’ arm work in those opening moments.

It was only then James pinched Banks’ cheek like he was a little child that things cranked up, with Banks snapmaring the American down for some kicks to the back, finishing off with a thrust kick to take James into the corner as it became chopping time! Still, James got back into it as he scores a flying stomp to Banks’ arm, as that game plan was put back into effect, wrenching away on the Kiwi’s arm in the ropes.

Eventually though, Banks started to get fed up with all of James’ arm work, and finally bursts off the ropes with a clothesline, before pulling James down into the path of a running knee… but there’ll be no dives here! Not yet, anyway… Banks trips James into the corner for a cannonball, but James is back out and catches Banks with his version of the Tower of London – the Rains of Castamere!

That’s only enough for a near-fall though, so James tries to go for the Coat of Arms, finally getting it after a modified Divorce Court, only to see Banks reverse into the ropes for a break. Another comeback from James ends with a Shotgun dropkick and a springboard stomp for a near-fall, then a Coast-to-Coast dropkick… before he ducks out of a spinning backfist as he finally put James away with a Slice of Heaven and a Kiwi Krusher. Fun stuff here with Banks outlasting James’ arm work before stringing together his trademark offence to claim the victory. ***¼

Julian Pace vs. Timothy Thatcher
Not pictured: Pace running down someone in the crowd… a relative of wXw’s video editor, Katja Pilz. Julian’s probably lucky to be avoiding that “blue dot” treatment!

Jakobi was on fire tonight as the ring announcer, introducing Thatcher as coming from “next door” – since Thatcher lives at a block of apartments literally right next to the wXw training academy when he’s on tour here. Thatcher started out mercilessly taking down Pace with a waistlock, forcing Pace into a rather different gameplan to the one he had when he took on WALTER at an Academy show late last year.

A wristlock from Thatcher keeps Pace on the mat, with Thatcher trying for a Kimura before opting to just roll over the Academy cup champion for a one-count. Eventually Pace broke free and hit a dropkick to reset things… before his attempts to run the ropes at “vollgas” ended with a swift boot to the chest. As you were!

Another crack at Vollgas ends with Pace getting off the dropkick, but a shotgun dropkick’s caught as Thatcher nonchalantly picks him up for a giant swing. Yep, Thatcher’s deceptively strong, and vicious too, as he quickly rolls Pace around for a single-leg crab! An ankle lock quickly ends in the ropes, but Pace tries to fight back from the ground, only to get kneed in the gut again as Thatcher rains down some clubbing forearms to the back.

An enziguiri from Thatcher’s good for a near-fall, but Pace hit back with a rolling neckbreaker, only for his satellite DDT to get countered into a Fujiwara armbar. Pace rolls out and goes for it again, and this time nails it ahead of a running shooting star press for a near-fall! Thatcher’s right back in it with a rear naked choke, but Pace avoids the RINGKAMPF butterfly suplex… only to leap into an uppercut as Thatcher gets off the double underhook suplex for the win. This was amazing stuff considering Pace’s inexperience – a really enjoyable clash of styles that solidified Thatcher’s role in the roster while giving Pace just enough for someone new to see that he’s more than just a “warm body” on the roster. Keep your eye on Julian, if you can! ***

Chris Brookes vs. David Starr
This ought to be good – and that’s solely on the basis of the one match I saw them have at a PROGRESS Dome show last year. Jakobi does an Andy Quildan (in that he doesn’t read out Starr’s nicknames)… not to worry, because David’s got a cue card in his ring gear, which a fan at ringside was lucky enough to read out on Christian’s behalf.

Outsourcing!

When we get going, Starr grabbed a hammerlock, but he quickly realised that Brookes’ immense height meant that rope breaks were going to be a factor here. I mean, look at this:

Starr is in the middle of the ring, and Brookes doesn’t even have to break a sweat. It’s like there ought to be a height limit or something! Once Starr had some joy with a headlock, he’s forced to beg for mercy as Brookes went for the wet willie… which understandably angered him.

“First you mock me with your height…” then Brookes grabs Starr’s Product as he went for the Look At It. Referee Rainer Ringer made it worse when he slapped away the groin claw, allowing Brookes to take over with stomps in the corner. Ringer kept on bumbling when he inadvertently shook the ropes while Starr was trying to climb to the outside. Poor David. It got from bad to worse as he was taken into the corner for a chop as Brookes took over, almost forcing the win with the Axel Dieter Special… which Starr rolled back on to try and sneak out a pinfall attempt.

Eventually Starr reverses it nicely into a seated surfboard, but Brookes goes right back to the junk when he dropkicked Starr, trapping him in the middle turnbuckle as the referee tried to shield him… only for Starr to get a small measure of retribution by slapping Brookes down low. Someone liked ACH last year, eh? The crowd booed Starr’s low blow, compounded by him saying this match was all “dick based offence”.

And chops. Lots of chops!

Starr ends up catching Brookes with a Cherry Mint DDT, but almost falls to Death By Roll-up, before he fights away an Octopus stretch… and rushes in with a Shining Wizard for a near-fall. Now we get dives, with Starr nailing a tope before Brookes took out Starr with a flip plancha – while smacking his own chin with his knee in the process. Back inside, Starr quickly nails Brookes with a Product Recall for a near-fall, then goes to the Product Placement as the strait-jacket German got him the win. A fun match all around, and a nice change of pace as the two played things for laughs before quickly getting serious. ***¼

Jonah Rock vs. WALTER
This was technically the Aussie’s debut in wXw, and my word, he’s got a big challenge on his hands.

WALTER takes Rock into the corner early on, before we gave way to the obligatory big lads’ battle of shoulder tackles, which WALTER won out on. A diving splash quickly neutralised… before WALTER began to throw chops. Yup. Rock’s replies don’t quite have as much oomph behind them, as the Austrian knocks down the Australian with relative ease.

Rock hit back quickly by reversing a suplex as he fought back into the match, sometimes accidentally as he fell back onto WALTER during a slam attempt, almost winning the match in the process. However, WALTER’s chops easily got him back into it… at least until Rock started to throw kicks as the two big lads were just throwing proverbial bombs at each other.

WALTER fights free of a full nelson and hits a short lariat as Rock tried to charge at him, following up with a slap and a rear naked choke attempt. Rock shrugs the latte roff and finally gets off a Dragon-ish suplex for a near-fall, before heading up top for… not a shooting star press, but a missed Battletoad frog splash, as WALTER came right back at him with a shotgun dropkick!

After that, WALTER teases a powerbomb, but instead goes for a rear naked choke, dragging Rock to the mat as a submission is forced. A pretty abrupt finish, but a nice big lads’ match with plenty of heavy shots back and forth. ***½

Veda Scott vs. Killer Kelly
This one had been built up a little, thanks to an ongoing storyline on Shotgun since Veda’s arrival in wXw.

Kelly launched right into Scott at the bell, taking her down for some punches from above before Veda fought her into the corner… only for Kelly to come back with a pump kick for an early near-fall. Veda’s right back with a Regal-plex for a near-fall, before she tries to kick away at the downed Kelly, taking her into the ropes for a Kevin Nash-like boot choke, only to almost get shocked by a roll-up from Kelly.

Undeterred, Scott stays in the fight and rolls Kelly into a cross-legged surfboard stretch that gave way to a curb stomp, before pulling Kelly into the Axel Dieter Special, that almost ended with a roll-up like we saw earlier. Kelly continues to fight back with punches from the bottom, only to get caught in the corner again as Scott threw some kicks as the Portuguese was helpless.

More back-and-forth shots follow, but Kelly stuffs a suplex attempt and takes Veda into the corner with one of her own, following up with a Shibata-style hanging dropkick for a near-fall. The pair end up on the apron, albeit briefly as Kelly just kicks Veda off it before eating a leg sweep from the American, who gets dropped with an enziguiri back inside as Kelly tried to finisher off…

…only for Scott to nail a head kick and a flying shoulder tackle before an Ace crusher almost put Kelly down. Scott keeps up with an attempt at the Billy Goat’s Curse inverted Boston crab, but Kelly shoves away and nails a high kick and a bridging German suplex for the win! Pretty decent stuff for the time they had, and given some of the criticisms over the weekend, this wasn’t too bad an outing for Veda. **¾

Mark Haskins vs. Mike Bailey
Behind the dubbing, you could tell that the Essen crowd were more than appreciative for Haskins, as this main event looked to be a battle of kicks – which we saw as both men swung and missed in the opening exchanges.

Bailey scores the first kick as he boots Haskins off the apron, before faking out a dive. Back inside, Haskins stuffs some grappling attempts as he tried to pin Bailey onto the mat during a lengthy tussle for a body part. After that, we’re back to the kicks as Haskins and Bailey kick each other in the hamstrings, before a flurry of kicks from Bailey left Haskins a little loopy.

Haskins comes back with a low dropkick, then a PK for a near-fall, as he began to wear down Bailey with various offence, wrenching away on Bailey’s leg in a bid to stop any kicks before they were even thrown. A STF follows as Haskins keeps up on Speedball, kicking him in the hamstring once more when a whip is stuffed.

Eventually Bailey nails a pop-up dropkick to take Haskins into the ropes, where he was met with a big boot and another dropkick… only for a running corkscrew splash to put Speedball in danger as Haskins instantly capitalises with a bridging armbar. A rope break puts that to an end, but Bailey can’t get out of the ropes as Haskins lays in with kicks again. When he does get free, Bailey sees that his kicks are caught… but he catches Haskins’ too as this descended into a brief farce before the Canadian hit an enziguiri to finally get some separation… only for a suplex attempt to get countered so much they both fell to the mat, still jockeying for the suplex.

That gave way to a forearm battle, and a cheeky roll-up from Bailey who kept up with kicks, cutting him down before a missed moonsault knees attempt allowed Haskins to roll him down into a Sharpshooter. A rope break follows as Bailey’s forced to battle away from an apron death valley driver, but instead he’s kicked off the apron as Haskins set up for a dive… only to abort it as Bailey instead countered with the Golden Triangle moonsault!

Inside again, Bailey follows up with knees, but Haskins is back to give receipts, only to get clocked with a corkscrew kick in the corner… the shooting star knees miss, but Bailey’s right back in with moonsault knees after stuffing a sunset flip, almost getting the win there. Haskins tries to respond with a German suplex, but he’s shoved off and met with a kick to the back of the head before taking Bailey into the ropes for a big kick to the head.

Another roll-up death valley driver follows, but Bailey kicks out, and endures another bridging armbar before nailing the moonsault fallaway slam out of nowhere for the win. As someone who wasn’t a huge fan of Bailey, his performances this weekend won me over big-time – and this match was the proverbial cherry on the cake. Good stuff from Bailey, who put up a fight and just about eked out victory. ***¾

Inner Circle V set off the trend that happily continued throughout the weekend – with fantastic in-ring action from bell-to-bell. I’ve yet to see an Inner Circle show live (hoping to change that soon), but the VODs haven’t disappointed. Take an intimate setting, some good wrestling and a hot crowd, and you cannot fail – as wXw are finding out with Inner Circle. If you’re tempted to skip this show… don’t!