On their return from the summer break, wXw’s Shortcut to the Top saw the return of a few familiar faces – and promised a lot of changes!

Let’s address the elephant in the room here. This was the first wXw show since the promotion announced that they’d be switching up entrance music so that they could air shows without any kind of overdubbing. Change is always something that wrestling fans in general can get apprehensive over, but the early samples that wXw dropped were promising in that they were mostly more than just generic soundalikes. It’ll be a long adjustment process, but we’ll see how crowds take to the new tunes… it’s something that Sebastian Hollmichel and Christian Bischof mentioned on commentary. Sorry Alan, I’ll listen to your track later! We’re at a packed Turbinenhalle in Oberhausen, and we pay our respects to the old wXw NOW intro jingle…

wXw World Tag Team Championship: WALTER & Ilja Dragunov vs Aussie Open (Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher) (c)
It’s going to take a long time to get used to hearing the crowd in intros here. Ilja’s got his WWE Soviet theme, which is perhaps the biggest loss, while Aussie Open are crushing action figures. You’ll get that reference if you’re a theme music nerd.

There’s HUGE chants for Schadenfreude at the bell as Dunkzilla locked up with WALTER… and got clubbed with a forearm. Davis didn’t shrink away, as he chased WALTER onto the apron, but WALTER’s back in before he powdered outside to avoid a chop from Davis. Smart, or scared? You tell him to his face… Again, WALTER sticks and runs as he drew Davis out into the crowd, but Ilja also gave chase as we had a brawl by the guard rails, before they got back to the ring with Davis firmly on the back foot. A tag brings in Ilja, who took a back body drop after his back senton came up short… and it’s the Schadenfreude pair who were suddenly on top. Davis’ back senton helps Kyle get a near-fall, before he press slammed Ilja off the top like he were Ric Flair.

WALTER’s back to turn things around as he whaled away on Fletcher, who managed to respond with a Quebrada to Ilja… only for WALTER to send him outside as he tried to dump Kyle on the apron with a back senton that almost went bad. The double-teaming returned as a boot from Ilja sent Kyle back into WALTER’s clutches as that back suplex on the apron followed, with Kyle being forced to kick out. Eventually Davis got the hot tag in, but he’s low bridged onto the apron by WALTER… a boot through the ropes led to a big lariat as Davis ensured he stayed in it… and the champions are back in control. The double-team Go To Sleep’s good for a near-fall on WALTER as Ilja breaks it up, as Kyle came even closer on WALTER. Kyle’s run ends when he missed a leap off the top as WALTER caught him in a Gojira clutch… but Davis gets the same in too as he countered a Torpedo Moscau, then powerbombed Ilja onto the pile!

Kyle’s back with a crossbody to WALTER – a la Tanahashi – but WALTER chooses to start a strike-off… and came out on the worse end of it as referee Rainer Ringer chose to enforce tag rules. It backfires as Aussie Open looked to haul up WALTER for a Fidget Spinner, only for Ilja to break it up with a Torpedo Moscau, before a Parade of Moves ended with WALTER hitting a German suplex on Davis for a near-fall. Ilja gets a blind tag in when Davis had WALTER up for a Gold Coast Waterslide… and it meant that Davis’ pin meant nothing as Ilja came in to break it up with another Torpedo Moscau… and that led to new champions. That was a bit of a surprise as Aussie Open continue to drop titles across Europe. What does this mean for World Tag Team Festival?! A pretty good opener – with a hot crowd and two teams that seemed to really click against each other. ***½

Absolute Andy & Jay FK (Francis Kaspin & Jay Skillet) vs. Stronghearts (CIMA, T-Hawk & El Lindaman)
Absolute Andy’s new theme sounds very… erm, not fun-ah? The music nerd in me wonders what the Anti Fun Police’ll get at Tag Festival. Also, what the bloody hell is Francis Kaspin wearing?!

Kaspin played chicken real well, screaming when CIMA stuck a boot through the ropes as he was standing on the floor, and with just cause. He got beaten on and thrown outside by the Stronghearts, over the top rope and to the floor. That’ll be an elimination later… Jay Skillet faces the same fate, while the crowd cheered for Absolute Andy to get him some. And that, he did, as he stumbled over the top to the floor after he took a beating. Kaspin did NOT look impressed. The match finally starts, with Kaspin getting thrown to the proverbial wolves against T-Hawk. Kaspin slaps T-Hawk instead of giving a handshake, but ends up getting chopped as he powdered to the outside. Skillet and El Lindaman’s next, but Skillet gets his hair pulled as Lindaman and his thighs proceeded to stomp on Jay’s lower back. Waistlock switches follow until Skillet went for a roll-up… but Lindaman kicked out and slammed him into the corner as the elder statesmen of the two teams came into play.

Andy uses forearms to club out of a headlock, as he and CIMA proceed to swap shoulder tackles, but it’s CIMA who edges ahead as Andy… heads up top? Nevermind, he’s caught and Ric Flair’d down to the mat with a press slam. The Stronghearts triple-team Skillet with low dropkicks… then a second set as they’d wanted to show off their German. Hey, it works! After Kaspin pulled out T-Hawk, things turn around as Jay-FK focused on Lindaman, as did Andy, who rained down punches on the muscly-thighed one. A camel clutch from Kaspin keeps Lindaman on the back foot, but eventually Lindaman got free, flipping out of a back suplex before dumping Andy with an Air Raid Crash!

T-Hawk’s brought back in against Skillet, who eventually succumbed to a chop before Andy came in and dropped T-Hawk with a spinebuster for a near-fall. Unfortunately, Lindaman has thighs of steel and is able to use them to hit Andy with a German suplex, before he went up top… and leapt into a superkick. Shades of Tag League from two years ago, but Andy’s not able to get the job done as Lindaman kicked out! Jay-FK keep the pressure on as Andy F5’s Lindaman… but in among it all we lost track of the legal man as Kaspin rolls up T-Hawk with a handful of tights for the win. I’m not sure where Andy & Jay-FK can go, but this act is entertaining as hell as a three-some. Hey… I wonder how they’d mesh against a certain Irish trio… ***¼

They play a promo for the WALTER/Daisuke Sekimoto match that’s happening in Toronto later this week (as this was written)…

Killer Kelly comes out for the next match… she’s got her WWE theme… but she’s not competing as a knee injury has her on the shelf. She’s here to do guest commentary for the English crew, which has to be a rib as she’s now got to go up all those stairs to the balcony.

wXw Women’s Championship: Toni Storm vs. Amale (c)
So we’ve an instant rematch for Toni, as they’re making the best of a bad situation as ideally I’m guessing you’d not want an instant singles rematch so quickly.

They start with tie-ups into the ropes before Toni came out with a big boot to drop Amale for a near-fall. A suplex keeps Toni on top, but Amale turns it around, taking Toni into the corner for a hip attack for a near-fall before following up with a chinlock. Amale keeps Toni down with some headscissors, before rolling over to drive Toni’s head into the mat. Amale seemed to be infatuated with getting a handshake, but Toni slaps it away as Amale returned the aggression. It’s back to the headscissors, but Toni slips out and countered with a German suplex before a clothesline had Amale down for a near-fall… from where Toni rolls into an ankle lock as she keeps the momentum building. Heck, Toni even switches it into a STF, but they’re close to the ropes as Amale reached out to force a break.

Storm goes for another sliding lariat, but Amale crucifixes her for a near-fall, before a stunner and a shotgun dropkick built up momentum. A face-washing boot only gets a two-count though, before Toni countered a Champion’s Maker with a headbutt. Toni heads up top, but got caught and spiked with a DDT out of the corner. Regardless, she’s back with some head kicks as the German suplex folded Amale in half… just in time for Toni to go for Storm Zero. Amale pushes out and shoves Toni into the ref before the Champion’s Maker landed for a near-fall… Cue frustration as Amale couldn’t handle getting anything more than a two-count out of her finisher… so she argued with referee Markus Weiss and repeatedly slapped him for the cheap DQ. The crowd weren’t too happy with this, but to be fair, I think this was a match that was going to struggle either way. I’m not sure how/why Toni’s a defacto good guy here, but Amale’s behaviour throughout kinda forced it. I’m sure they’ll be back, and better. **

wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship: Bobby Gunns (c) vs. Lucky Kid
Lucky Kid’s got his PROGRESS theme, and some Schadenfreude-themed gear while Bobby Gunns’ replacement isn’t quite fitting “Gunns… Bobby Gunns”, but it’s perfectly serviceable.

Lucky shoots out of the blocks as his opening flurry took Gunns outside for a pescado, before he cranked Gunns’ neck back in the ring. Gunns got free as Lucky ends up brushing referee Tassilo Jung aside to keep up the offence… which woke up Gunns as the pair began to exchange shots. A crossface attempt from Lucky’s perhaps too early as they end up in the ropes, as Gunns began to mount some offence. A backslide gets the champion a near-fall, before he caught Lucky in an Octopus stretch… but again, they quickly end in the ropes. The back-and-forth continues with a hiptoss knee from Lucky, only for him to get sent onto the apron as his attempt to get back in was thwarted with some boots after Gunns had hung him up in the ropes.

That gave Gunns an opening as he proceeded to work on Lucky’s legs, using a half crab to try and force a submission. Lucky gets free and manages to find a way back in with a handspring back elbow, before he’s forced to skin the cat and come back in with an Asai DDT to Gunns. The momentum continues as Lucky took Gunns outside for a tope con giro… and good God almighty, that thud when Lucky hit the floor. Things come to a pause as Lucky’d clearly winded himself with that impact, but the match continued as a count-out started, with the pair quickly building up to back-and-forth uppercuts before they rolled back in. The hockey fight continued back in the ring, but Gunns went for the arm, finding his way into a Fujiwara armbar, then an omoplata that ended when Gunns inadvertently rolled Lucky into the ropes.

Kicks from Gunns keep Lucky on the mat, as a Dragon screw led Gunns into a leg lace as another rope break seemed to rile up Gunns. A desperation chop from Lucky rocks the champion, but he couldn’t follow up with a suplex because of his ribs, as a powerslam from Gunns almost ended things. The kick-out only got Lucky back into a heel hook as that crash and burn earlier totally derailed whatever gameplan he had, as Gunns was proving relentless in his bid to force the win. Gunns tried to finish off Lucky with a lariat, but the challenger catches him with a small package for a near-fall, before a Ligerbomb drew a heavily-delayed two-count. Again, the ribs. So of course, Lucky heads up top out of desperation, but he’s caught as the crowd were slowly beginning to turn on the ruthless Gunns. Finger tweaking set Gunns up for a superplex as that lariat finally lands… but still Lucky kicks out!

Gunns head up top as he berated Lucky for not staying down. He tries to talk the referee into waving it off, but as Lucky refused to quit, Gunns ended up going directly for the ribs with a series of kicks, as he tried to force the issue… which ended up being successful as he folded Lucky into a Swish armbar… and there’s the quick stoppage. A weird finish, but one that perhaps showed a darker side to the champion as he took advantage of Lucky’s early slip to win by any means necessary. I hope this isn’t the end of Lucky’s push for the title, but even without that, you didn’t get too much sense that the crowd were expecting him winning. ***¼

Shortcut to the Top Match
It’s a Royal Rumble with entries every 90 seconds, as the winner gets a shot at the wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship.

Francis Kaspin came out at number one after Karsten Beck swerved him on Road to Shortcut to the Top a few months back. Jay Skillet got number two, which seems a bit suspect. Of course they don’t fight, as instead they get the mic to tell us that Shortcut to the Top for them is going to be a handicap tag team match. Let’s see who’s out at number three… Absolute Andy?! The fix is in! Did Karsten Beck forget to shake the numbers around?

Andy leads a 90-second photo session for the fans, with or without the benefit of flash photography… which became a ploy for him to try and eliminate Jay-FK. They save themselves, as the clock ticks down to bring out number four: Shigehiro Irie! Andy tries to make a peace offering, but Irie fights back, throwing Kaspin out with ease! A sit down splash to Skillet is next, as Andy was screaming for help… and now we’re up to number five: Oliver Carter.

Carter starts with a Quebrada into Irie as he was the proverbial house afire, but that’s quickly put out as Irie again tries to throw out Andy while the pace slowed down. Out at six was Marius al-Ani and his new music and growing hair… there’s a back body drop for Andy as we’re in the “everyone tries to throw everyone else out” stage, which conveniently has the ring filling. Next out is Kyle Fletcher, who was very bouncy for someone who’d lost his titles earlier. Kyle dumps Carter with a Ligerbomb before he stalled Skillet with a suplex. At eight is Mike Schwarz, as we got our first returning favourite with a hell of a clone of Party Hard. Schwarz partied hard until he got stopped drinking by al-Ani, before Avalanche entered the fray. These entrances are short enough to give you a flavour of the music without giving you enough to make a firm decision on.

Avalanche and Irie charge at each other with back-and-forth shoulder tackles, before Jay Skillet tried to stop Avalanche from eliminating the Ambition winner. Jay pays for it as he was thrown onto the apron… then nudged off as he pancaked to avoid being kicked out. I loved that part. Ivan Kiev enters at 10 with a slightly-different theme than Lucky Kid, as he had his own shine. Marius al-Ani throws Carter out of the match, while Kyle Fletcher clung onto the ropes to save his own skin as Andy got thrown out… through the middle ropes. He’s safe. At number 11 was Julian Pace and his wonderful earworm of a new track, but he’s stopped by the roadblock that was al-Ani, before he found his gear. Rope running gets mixed in with hip attacks in a cute addition as Julian stood tall… Another countdown brings out the twelfth man, Levaniel. It’s a Turbinenhalle debut for the Prince of Stars, who ran his mouth as Kyle Fletcher just flipped him off. Levaniel finally makes it to the ring, but got tossed out almost instantly by Pace. Cue another ticket, as lucky number thirteen was revealed as T-Hawk.

T-Hawk goes straight after Andy, and the rest of the field with chops until he got stopped by his future OWE colleague Irie… but a suplex puts Shiggy down as we’re back to the widespread brawling until number 14 was introduced by Karsten Beck… it’s Sha Samuels, back in wXw after many years away! Sha makes a beeline for Avalanche as he cleared house, before spiking Kyle Fletcher with a spinebuster. Sha and Schwarz eliminate al-Ani before they shared a beer… only for Sha to toss out Mike from behind. Ah, man. Number fifteen was Mark Davis, who instantly pancaked Sha before he “tagged in” Kyle as the former tag champions worked well together for a spell. Irie nearly eliminated Ivan Kiev as the clock ticked down for… El Lindaman! He goes in with all the bodyslams, dropping Kyle, Andy, Pace, Davis… Sha?! Kiev too… and finally, Irie! Wait, T-Hawk gets one too, because it’s every man for himself, before Lindaman tried his biggest test… and got Avalanche in one! The crowd loved that one.

Another countdown brings out Jurn Simmons, who’s back on his own for now and clearing house as he looked to back up his Twitter quote-tweet game from the weeks building up to the show. He’s able to stop Julian Pace’s satellite headscissors, pancaking him before a gutwrench powerbomb dumped Julian to the mat… before stopping to eliminate Sha. Jurn throw Lindaman into T-Hawk to eliminate him, before El Lindaman got tossed too as Jurn was becoming the first monster in the match. Emil Sitoci is out next, and he’s quickly clotheslined out by Avalanche, who’d focused on him and only him. Problem was, that focus stayed on a little too long as he’s dropped by an Andy superkick, before Chris Brookes entered the match. All of Schadenfreude’s in the ring now, as they hold up Jurn for a shoop cutter, before Ivan Kiev was left as the lone RISE man in against the odds. Ivan eats everyone’s finishers then is turfed out, and with no Pete Bouncer here, that’s it for RISE tonight.

Maggot is out at number 20 with music, and a load of cutters before he speared Pace. Avalanche looked to stop things, but Emil Sitoci runs back out and hits him with his title, as Absolute Andy gets the easy elimination. Next is Ilja Dragunov, who went straight for Kyle Fletcher as the new tag team champion was looking to remind everyone he’s still really good on his own. Jurn tosses out Kyle before a Torpedo Moscau got Davis out of the match… and all of a sudden, Chris Brookes is on his lonesome. The Rotation is our next surprise at number 22, flipping into the ring and catching Andy with a dropkick before he… facepalmed Julian Pace. Whoops! Rope-walking’s next on the way to a lucha armdrag, before a satellite DDT planted Brookes as the Rotation was wowing the Turbinenhalle crowd. Victory Over Gravity – the middle rope 450 – catches Maggot, but Andy ends Rotation with a running big boot, before an attempted F5 from Andy to Pace ended with the Veteraan getting thrown out. Julian tries the same pace to Jurn, but the Dutchman lifts him onto the apron before knocking him down.

Jurn and Ilja crash into each other after flipping back into the ring, as the clock ticks again. Number 23 is WALTER, who made a beeline for Brookes as he cleared the ring. Hey, Irie’s still in there, and thrown around with ease, as Rotation got turned out, while Jurn almost clotheslined WALTER out of the match. Jurn tried to one better, lifting WALTER and Ilja to the outside, but the new tag champions double-team him en route to the easy elimination. Prince Ahura’s next, this time with music, as the Pretty Bastards managed to take down WALTER and Ilja, before a knee wiped out Irie. Ahura got too cocky too soon though as he went rope walking with WALTER… and got knocked to the floor. Maggot went the same way too as Leon Van Gasteren got his music and entrance… but we’re instead shown footage of a masked man having laid him out backstage. So he’s not entering as the crowd sing his old music, as Irie went to work with Beast Bombers for WALTER and Ilja. Brookes tries to join in, but he’s… POUNCE’D out of the match! Holy hell Irie!

There’s a POUNCE’ing for Ilja too, but he went under the bottom rope before Irie tried to eliminate WALTER… it backfires as he needs to headbutt free of an elimination attempt, before he got low bridges, then booted to the floor. Out next: Vinny Vortex. Vinny charges WALTER into the ropes before going up top for a shoulder tackle as the WWE UK champion had the big target on his back, but he’s right in with a shotgun dropkick to put the brakes on the Academy champion.

A chop floors Vinny, before a second one flipped him over the top rope to the floor. Norman Harras enters at 27, with a very Chris Hero-like logo as he’s back from his tour of Canada. WALTER looks to take him way too lightly, pushing Harras away before he got clocked with a diving European uppercut. Norman and his sparkly trunks lands a German suplex next, before he got lifted to the apron and chopped to the floor. It was more of a fight than I expected, certainly. WALTER does the universal belt motion as I remember Ilja’s out but not eliminated. The crowd chant for Timothy Thatcher, which WALTER laughs off, as instead we get Alpha Kevin! The crowd LOVED that one as Kevin came through the crowd and tried to eliminate WALTER… but the entry ramp saved him. So Kevin has to try his luck with punches, following in with a flying hip attack, before he got booted again by WALTER. Ah well. He’s out, but in at 29 is…

DAVID STARR! Sebastian Screams. That reaction gave me goosebumps, as Ilja suddenly returns from the dead to help WALTER, cracking Starr in the back with a chair. Christ, the pad came off before the second shot, as they laid waste to Starr, with Ilja wrecking the BACK of the chair too. It’s an easy elimination as the crowd chanted for Timothy Thatcher, as whomever was #30 stood between that and a RISE-like gimme win.

The clock ticks. The lights go out. IT’S TIMOTHY THATCHER! WALTER and Ilja are shook by Tim’s lack of music (and by his surprise return). WALTER tries to go in for a hug, but Thatcher shoves him away, before he got swarmed by the new tag team champions. Thatcher overcomes it as he sidesteps a boot from WALTER before throwing out Ilja… but gets caught by a RINGKAMPF German suplex by WALTER. Chops are shrugged off as Thatcher’s booted in the head… but he sidesteps another boot from WALTER to send him onto the apron, before a series of slaps had WALTER woozy as a rear naked choke on the apron put WALTER to sleep… sending him falling off the apron as Timothy Thatcher took the win!

Rumbles can be a bit of a slog, but the Shortcut to the Top this year felt like a breeze. There were stories, borrowing a little from the rest of the indies, but they didn’t neglect their own. Jurn Simmons in particular got a good little monster run as I have a sneaky feeling that the Crown could be early favourites for the World Tag Team Festival in October. Plus, the returns of Starr and Thatcher add new spark to the top of the card, which had been threatening to wobble since WrestleMania weekend. ***¾

After the match, Thatcher gets the mic… but puts it down to soak in the atmosphere as the crowd roared with chants of “There’s Only One Tim Thatcher”. Goosebumps. Thatcher thanks the crowd for their support, before saying that wXw will always be his home. Wrestling fans around Europe breathed a collective sigh of relief for that. He had one message though: he had to leave because “das Leben ist kein Ponyhof” (life isn’t easy – that’s not the literal translation!)

He’s going to be back for World Tag Team Festival – righting two wrongs: he’s entering the tournament alongside Veit Müller… and he’s cashing in his title shot! October suddenly can’t come soon enough, as the World Tag Team Festival may as well be renamed the World Timothy Thatcher Festival given how busy he’s going to be!

We then end the show by cutting to Alan Counihan and Andy Jackson on the English feed as they’re interrupted by David Starr. Starr’s back to “correct the course” of wXw as he’s not just here to chase after WALTER… he’s here to make WALTER and Ilja’s lives hell.

Given all the changes going on with wXw, it could have been so easy for the crowd to have turned on this… but fortunately a good show coupled with a very receptive crowd for the new tunes made this a joy to watch. Sure, there were some weird choices, like Toni Storm going from the entitled villain she was in the first half of the year to a defacto fan favourite again, but that’s almost likely her being a victim of circumstance. After a few weeks off, wXw’s quickly going Julian Pace and hitting vollgas – after this show on the Saturday and an academy show the next day, wXw’s headed to North America for two shows in Toronto (an Ambition and a main show), plus a co-promoted show with CZW, before returning to Germany for the roads to FAN and World Tag Team Festival. It’s the calm before the storm – in more ways than one!