True Grit Wrestling “War Of The Roses”, March 8th 2015
by Ben Corrigan
It never ceases to amuse me the myriad of places my years of pro wrestling fandom has taken me.
Aside from a plethora of the usual arenas, town halls, leisure centres, nightclubs, ballrooms, guildhalls, sports halls and civic centres in all four corners of the land, the lure of this somewhat ridiculous form of entertainment has also dragged me to railway arches in East London, secondary schools in Redcar, boutique shopping centres in Leeds, rock clubs in Chatham, public parks in Macclesfield, rough-looking pub function rooms in Coventry and more ropey working men’s’ clubs in questionable neighbourhoods than I care to recall. It would certainly all make an interesting book. For instance, in normal life, what other pursuit would have given me reason to ever set foot in residential areas in Broxbourne, Leigh, Hindley, Orpington or Swanley?
The latest experience came as I stood patiently outside a warehouse unit on an industrial estate in Wakefield. Despite the fact anyone passing could be forgiven for mistaking it as a tiling and decorating depot, on this night Unit 12 was being christened the ‘House of Grit’, the new home to True Grit Wrestling. With the tendency for many British wrestling promoters to run on Sunday evenings, you get the sense that you never see these towns in their best light. That was certainly the prevailing feeling as I’d trudged through the deserted streets of Wakefield, walking up from the literal building site that is Kirkgate station, through empty shopping centres, past the rows of shut shops and closed-down pubs, with the only signs of life coming from the gang of pre-teens congregating outside McDonald’s.
True Grit Wrestling itself started up in April 2014. It was initially conceived as a joint venture between Paul ‘Parisio’ Clarke of Leeds-based GRAPPLE and James Carr, who had achieved a level of recognition on these shores in the mid-2000s as ‘JC Thunder’. JC will always be fondly known to me for his 2-year ultimate underdog road to the title in Kent-based IPW:UK back in 2006-2007, which I still hold as the greatest and best-booked British wrestling storyline of the last decade. Though linked to GRAPPLE, the idea behind TGW was that it would be more ‘grown up’. While GRAPPLE predominantly runs social clubs and working men’s clubs using local wrestlers and their own trainees, TGW would be a place where you could see more-established national names, in fancier venues with improved production, suitable for wider DVD or BluRay release. They would also be the latest to jump on the increasing trend for wrestling shows to be held in modern nightclub venues, with a mainly standing audience, encouraging drinking and presenting wrestling more in the vein of a Friday/Saturday night out.
Their debut year was impressive, from a punter’s point of view at least. Crowds ranged from 100 to 150, which isn’t great, but was towards to top end of what local events had been drawing. Those that did attend were loud, enthusiastic and responsive, making for a great atmosphere. More importantly, the shows absolutely delivered in terms of entertainment. The inaugural event, ‘War of the Roses’, was a strong show that was based around a Yorkshire vs. Lancashire theme, immediately drawing good guy/bad guy lines for shows going forward. Next, the ‘TG Cup’ was a star-studded one-night, 8-man tournament that was one of the best UK wrestling shows I saw anywhere in 2014. Then, the ‘TG Games’ was another fun show capped off by a legitimately excellent all-star 6-man elimination match. Rampage Brown was cast as the all-conquering local hero, a role he excels in, and the promotion quickly established a tradition for fantastic out-of-control, venue-wide main event brawls. The shows were well-received by the fans and the performers were enthusiastic about their experiences there. It did look as though it was the genesis of something pretty cool.
While the initial concept was to plug a perceived gap in the Yorkshire wrestling market, the scene in which True Grit operates in early 2015 is quite different. Indeed, there is an abundance of shows in Yorkshire these days. Tidal Wrestling, GRAPPLE, LPW, Pro Wrestling Heroes, 4GW, NGW, EPW, EBW, Monkey Madness, First-Class, ICW and probably more are all running (or soon to be running) in an area you could cover in an hour-and-a-half’s drive (and that’s the extreme – most of these are directly running in Leeds itself). It’s fair to say you see some of the same faces in the crowd at just about every one. With all that going on, it is even more important for TGW to establish its own strong identity. I was therefore somewhat initially disappointed upon entering the House of Grit to see the set-up, around the ring at least, now resemble something you would see on any leisure centre or sports hall show. There was seating down two sides of the ring, with a little standing room on another. The unit is actually the training facility, lock-up and show venue for UKW, possibly best known for a fairly rotten TV series they had on open-access network MyChannel on Sky and FreeSat. While I don’t know for certain, I am led to believe UKW don’t run their own shows anymore, but do still exist as a training and ring-hire provider.
The interior was intriguing. Aside from a cool-looking TGW-branded entrance, it was very much a UKW home, with the big UKW ring, UKW banners and a UKW-emblazoned LORRY parked in one corner. There were 6ft banners on the wall of UKW headliners, such as Prince Ameen, Tiny Iron and Valkabious, which amused me greatly. Being a permanent training centre, there were two rings erected: the main one but also a smaller one to the side that they actually placed the ‘hard’ camera in. It will only be a matter of time before someone on one of these shows starts doing stuff in the other ring as part of a match. Or WARGAMES! Ha. There were merchandise tables selling knock-off Bret Hart t-shirts for ONE POUND, and what was effectively a ‘tuck shop’ selling snacks, soft drinks, beers and ciders. £2 a can, not to be sniffed at. Bizarrely, for some reason there were also a whole load of kiddies’ toy cars piled up in one the corner of the room. It was certainly very different to what I’d come to expect from true Grit, but as a custom set-up for wrestling, this wasn’t actually bad at all.
This 2015 kick-off was this year’s version of the ‘War of the Roses’, with the same Yorkshire vs. Lancashire theme as the debut event last April. It’s a concept that is easy to understand and adds meaning to every match. Being a series, it did come with some drawbacks, as in this case it made almost the entire second half completely predictable. If I was in charge I’d have called the Wakefield debut ‘Shakedown in Wake-Town’. Or ‘Wakey-Wakey’ or something. This is precisely the reason why I should never, ever be put in charge. The attendance was about 75 at the start, but seemed to fill up a little more later. The crowd started fairly quiet, possibly because it was bloody FREEZING in the building, but got livelier and livelier as the night (and beers) set in. By the time the last two matches came around, the place was rocking. The ring announcer for the night was still former FutureShock and GPW wrestler ‘Mr Metrosexual’ Matt Taylor, while live DVD commentary was being recorded by Harvey Dale and the Big Daddy Guy. Don’t ask. What was funny was that Dale was in his full gimmick attire though, unless they filmed some stuff backstage, never once appeared in the ring or stood up to the point people would see it. Now in sole charge of the company as I understand it, JC was walking around the room throughout the night, checking things over and making sure everything was going according to plan.
If ever there was an opening contest with characters to get the Yorkshire vs. Lancashire theme over, it would be Liam Lazarus vs. Sam Bailey. Liam is someone that I’ve only become aware of over the last year. He has all the ingredients to be a potential star all over this country and his execution in the ring is superior to some with 2 or 3 times his level of experience. He has a good look, natural charisma and, more importantly, natural likeability. The one thing holding him back at present is that his current Yorkshire Tea-drinking, B.R.E.W.-chanting, Vengaboys-dancing “look at how outrageously WACKY I am” gimmick is strictly mid-card. For example, even in Tidal Champion Wrestling, who have made him their main singles champion, he comes over as a lower-level star than the likes of Rampage Brown, Dave Mastiff, Noam Dar and El Ligero. It’s fine for now, he’s good at it, and it is certainly entertaining, but there will always be a ceiling for him with this persona. Bailey’s heel character is essentially ‘Man Who Comes From Manchester’, coming out to Happy Mondays, singing Manchester football songs. Mad fer it. I’ve not had the chance to see him as a solo bad guy on too many occasions, but he is able to channel a gruff underhand sleaziness that makes it work. So, the pair had a thoroughly decent match, with both looking good. Lancashire took the lead in the series as Lazarus came off the top rope with a crossbody, but Bailey rolled-though and hooked a handful of tights to score the win. LAN 1-0 YOR.
Drawing Yorkshire level in the second bout was Sam Wilder, who beat Seb Strife with a cannonball senton off the top rope. After really seeing him for the first time throughout 2014, I am firmly of the opinion that Wilder is a very good talent with a lot to offer. I could definitely see him having a breakout 2015. Hailing from the Ribble Valley, Strife wrestles for GRAPPLE and is a guy who I’d spotted making noise in the crowd of previous True Grit shows. In a marvellously dickish move, he came to the ring ripping up a bunch of white roses (obviously the symbol of Yorkshire) and tossing them at the crowd. In terms of in-ring ability he was clearly a level below most of the other blokes on the card, but if used regularly here (and TGW do have monthly shows set for the rest of the year) I could easily see him becoming a character that the repeat audience will react and respond to. YOR 1-1 LAN.
Lancashire edged ahead once again as Lana Austin beat Sheffield’s Violet O’Hara. Lana is someone who is getting better each time I see her. She isn’t the finished article but has improved, especially in terms of confidence, presence and character. Throughout this match she was constantly heckled by a character in the crowd known locally as ‘El Toupé’, then interacted with him the entire match, which was funny/awkward in equal measure. I’ve seen Violet a few times now for both True Grit and Tidal, but unfortunately have yet to see her look any good. I think she might be working on an injury at the moment, but she seemed a step behind. She also has a habit of wrestling as if she is in an empty room, oblivious to the fact there is an audience there wanting to be involved. Seeing these two tiny girls working in the massive 20x20ft UKW ring was something. The finish was interesting, as Lana won by countout after running Violet into the ringpost and guardrails on the floor. LAN 2-1 YOR.
Before the next contest, the skinniest-looking Giant Haystacks lookalike you’ll ever see came out to proclaim Lancastrian superiority. Now then, who should be best placed to provide an opposing view? The Big Daddy Guy, of course. So he got up from his commentary position, revealed his leotard then belly-bumped Pequeno Haystacks out of the ring. They did a spot just like this on the ‘War of the Roses’ show last year too, where these guys were the team mascots before and during the show, so this was a fun little throwback.
The final match of the first half pitted Hull duo Nathan Cruz & Matt Myers against hired guns Stixx & Joseph Conners. Nottingham-man Stixx opened by saying they didn’t care about Yorkshire or Lancashire, but had been hired to do a job and they were going to do it, as more wins meant more money. He added that he’d heard Yorkshire was full of inbred farmers, but now he was here he realised that was wrong: they aren’t farmers. Ha! Conners played on this during the match by asking the crowd where their pitchforks were. PITCHFORKS. Does he have any semblance of what a farmer is in, you know, 2015? The bout itself was a fine tag battle, the best match of the show to this point. Cruz is someone that I had never seen cast as a good guy before September last year. After so many years of seeing him as a villain, it caught me be surprise that he is actually very, very good in the traditional ‘babyface’ role. That was absolutely the case again here, playing off the physically dominant Stixx & Conners perfectly. The ending saw dissention between the Yorkshire lads after Myers was run into Cruz. Conners then caught Myers in a Fujiwara armbar for the submission victory. Afterwards, Cruz walked out on Myers. Trouble’s a brewing… LAN 3-1.
What this meant, of course, and was announced as such going into the interval, was that Yorkshire now had to win all 3 of their remaining matches to win the series. There is always at least one match on shows with a ‘series’ like this where the result has to be completely obvious so as to make the main event worthwhile, but the 3-1 scoreline effectively meant the outcome of the next TWO matches was now going to be entirely evident…
Sure enough, Ugandan Warrior Nsereko first pulled Yorkshire (yes, that’s right) back within one with his victory over Ricky J McKenzie, then Martin Kirby downed Bubblegum to draw things level and make the main event the decider. Who’d have guessed?! Nsereko comes out to ‘that song’ from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, which instantly gets people smiling, clapping, dancing and into him. He also does a deal where his head is supposed to be rock-hard and impervious to pain (Ugandans, in wrestling logic, are presumably distantly related to Samoans or Fijians), so they did lots of headbutt moves and no-selling which the crowd did get into as the story of the match. It was simple, but it was fun. Nsereko himself looked a lot better here than when I saw him fight Alex Gracie at last TGW show, and put RJM away with a D-Lo-esque Sky High powerbomb. Bubblegum and Martin Kirby have had their matches before, but it is somewhat surprising that they haven’t faced each other one-on-one more often, in the same way that they’ve both fought the likes of El Ligero and Joey Hayes. They usually work really well together, and I saw them have a cracking match way back in 3CW with the goodie/baddie roles reversed. This was a superior bout, with Bubblegum on great form as pantomime villain and Kirby showing him up with his athletic skills. Everything they did looked good, crisp and smooth, neither man missing a step or putting a foot wrong. Really good stuff, with an exciting closing stage almost making you forget the outcome seemed clear, before Kirby’s win came with a small package.
If I had any fears about TGW losing some of the identity it had created for itself with the move here, they were allayed by Rampage Brown & El Ligero vs. Cyanide & CJ Banks. The battle to decide the overall winner, this was also fought under No DQ, No Tags, No Holds Barred rules. Each man was given an individual entrance to make them come over as big stars, Rampers getting the big hometown hero reception. Leeds! Leeds! Ahem, nearly got carried away there. Banks came out with a steel chair, while Brown and Ligero both entered carrying ladders. And no, these weren’t the typical shiny brand new ladders from Home Depot you see on TV wrestling, these were PROPER decorators ladders, complete with splashes of paint! They proceeded to have a tremendous brawl, living up to the main event standards from 2014, that was just simply tonnes of fun. They were fighting all over the place, as Brown and Cyanide paired off (reprising the terrific main event of last year’s ‘War of the Roses’) and Ligero and Banks did likewise. Rampage was hitting Cyanide with beer cans and running him into the wall, while Ligs went exploring to see what goodies he could find and use. Stixx’s chain was still out there for some reason, so made itself useful. A funny bit I noticed was the group of trainees sat in one corner kept being given a signal to get up and get into place, presumably for a big catch, but were twice called too early and had to sit back down. Finally, after the third time, Ligero did this amazing flip dive off a ledge above the toilet block down onto his opponents and assembled masses below. Back in the ring, there was a brilliant near-fall as Rampage hit his fireman’s lift-facedrop-type move and Ligero immediately followed with a big top-rope splash, but only earned a 2 count. As the finish neared, members of Team Lancashire would run in to interfere, only to be run off by other members of Team Yorkshire. While all this was going on, Rampage levelled Cyanide with a massive lariat for the proud Yorkshire win. All of Team Yorkshire joined him to celebrate in the ring. There was no confetti or pyro like they had at Control nightclub, but that didn’t matter as it was still a big high after a super-entertaining match. The show ended with a reminder that the next card here, Sunday 12 April, is ‘Champion’, where TG Cup winner Rampage takes on TG Games winner T-Bone to determine first ever TGW Champion. PCW fans take note: Team Single collides for the belt!!
TGW have another NINE shows scheduled for the House of Grit in 2015. Despite my early reservations this was a good start, and by the end I was left thinking that, if they can continue to bring in performers with some national name value and gain a reputation for putting on FUN shows with a penchant for ridiculously entertaining brawls, then regular shows in what they could make their ‘home’ venue, with a repeat audience, could actually be something quite cool. Remember, the ECW Arena was effectively a warehouse… I can’t guarantee I’ll make it to the warehouse every month, but I’ll certainly be looking to be back in April to see how they’re getting along. ‘Til then!
(Details of True Grit Wrestling’s upcoming shows can be found on their Facebook page. Ben Corrigan will return with other reports from his travels around the British scene. He can be found on Twitter)