Fight Sports Midwest, a new independent promotion based out of the obscure town of Portage, Indiana, spent most of this past winter slowly building up one of the most unique and intriguing indy cards the central USA region has seen in quite some time, with several first-time matches (Samoa Joe vs. Eddie Kingston, Josh Abercrombie vs. Austin Aries, and of course the much hyped Tex-Arkana challenge match of Larry Sweeney vs. Bryan Alvarez). I'd heard some very mixed reviews of the show, and decided to pick it up in my recent SMV order to see for myself how the show came off.
The most striking aspect of Fight Sports Midwest is its presentation - all of the YouTube hype promos are in a big block at the beginning, and other promos are interspersed throughout the DVD to follow up on angles developed during the matches. The DVD menus are also professionally done, a step above the usual SMV fare. There are also graphic transitions between matches (fades and wipes with the FSM logo) rather than just basic cuts like most Smart Mark offerings. The building itself is set up with a large entrance tunnel and has what looks like a brand-new major league ring.
The Phoenix Twins (Dash and Tweek) vs. The North Star Express (Darin Corbin and Ryan Cruz)
I heard a lot of good things about the Phoenix Twins based on this show, and while a solid unit, didn't really strike me as anything more than a pair of standard identical twin loudmouth heels. The North Star Express are a team that as far as ringwork goes, are still rough around the edges but steadily improving, and they've already developed an amusing entrance and in-ring schtick that puts a smile on my face. This was a basic and enjoyable tag opener, with all the major hallmarks such a match entailed. The only odd thing was that Ryan Cruz really didn't get a whole lot of hot tag offense before the Phoenixes suddently put him away with their finisher...the ending just seemed very abrupt.
Tank vs. Claudio Castagnoli
The theme of Fight Sports Midwest seems to be "first time matches you wouldn't have thought of that could be cool." Sometimes that works out great, and others it doesn't, like this match. This was one of those matches where you could pretty much tell from the opening exchanges it wasn't going to work out. The main reason this wasn't particularly good (besides the awkward movement in points) is because it seemed totally ridiculous to have the 6'4", 230+ pound, ripped to shreds and freaky agile Claudio Castagnoli work "overmatched underdog babyface" to Tank. The ending was at least decent with Claudio stunning Tank with multiple European Uppercuts before nailing him with a big springboard flying one.
NWA World Women's Title Match: MsChif (c) vs. Ann Brookstone vs. Mickie Knuckles
This match ended up being the biggest mess of the show for a variety of reasons, most of them not the fault of the original two competitors in the match. Ann Brookstone gets accidentally eliminated roughly 30 seconds into the match due to a botched three-count by Bryce Remsburg. Then, at various points during the match Mickie clearly forgets what she's supposed to be doing and looks completely out of it. The bright points of the match were MsChif's crazy bodyscissor offense and a sick finishing second rope piledriver variant (not sure what the technical name is, but it's the same thing as Chasyn Rance's Chasyn Driver, which you can find on youtube.)
Tag Team Gauntlet Match: Vortekz and Drake Younger vs. Brandon Thomaselli and Chase Richards vs. Trik Davis and Billy Roc vs. CJ Otis and Truth Martini vs. The Iron Saints (Sal and Vito Thomaselli)
This match goes a really long time (way too long) so I'll just go with some random observations in place of an actual review. First of all - Shawn Cook and Dustin Lillard are awesome. They come out to the Beverly Hills 90210 theme, come out with an early 90s Zack Morris cella phone (Lillard: "HOLD ON LUKE PERRY, I'VE GOT SOME BUSINESS TO TAKE CARE OF!") and work the oblivious, goofy pretty boy heel gimmick better than a lot of people I've seen recently. Wrestling needs more guys like Cook and Lillard, who take the flamboyant gimmick and take it as over the top as possible, then the endless "badass shooter technician heels that fans cheer" that have hit the indies the past five years. I mean come on, they have a move called "The Washboard" which is rubbing their abs in opponents' faces!
The best section of the match though, was the exchanges between Martini/Otis and Davis/Roc. I hadn't seen CJ Otis in forever (since he was opening IWA cards with Darin Corbin) and I was shocked it was the same guy who looked like a Dempsey brother in a neon green singlet. He looks like, well, an actual wrestler now. Martini has been underrated forever and shined here, and Billy Roc (who I saw for the first time here) has the potential to be a real Midwest franchise player, judging from his ringwork and BABYFACE FIRE~! here.
Billy Roc and Trik win this section of the gauntlet, and the upset Martini and Otis Pearl Harbor them in retaliation. So out comes the most overrated fucking team on the indies, the Thomaselli brothers, whose role in the match is CLEARLY to pick the bones of Roc and Trik and mop them up quickly. But NO, they have to try and get all their super-contrived doubleteam shit in and get their valet a couple of unneeded distraction spots. I normally don't call wrestlers out on this (because I don't know what goes on in THE BACK, maaan) but it's so out of context for this match it's obvious. I'm biased though, because I REALLY fucking hate the Thomasellis, who if it wasn't for Ian mega-pushing them when he had no one else left, wouldn't be considered anything more than a passable lowcard team anywhere else. I've seen VERY little from them approaching "good" that didn't require someone else dying for their ridiculous offense.
ANYWAY...the match itself in total was decent but totally unmemorable, and at least accomplished its goal of setting up matches for future shows.
Josh Abercrombie vs. Austin Aries
As a SoCal wrestling fan, I do have a bone to pick with Josh Abercrombie (who basically ripped off every single aspect of Joey Ryan's gimmick wholesale), but he's clearly an extremely talented wrestler and has put together a diverse resume of good matches throughout the Midwest. I had high hopes for this match with Aries, but for whatever reason it just didn't do it for me. Maybe it was a less-than-100% performance from Aries (who face it, is no longer the killing machine he was in 2004 due to accumulated wear and tear) but this basically just kinda motored along at a steady 2nd-gear pace without really getting the crowd too involved. I did like the finish, (Aries missed a 450 and Abercrombie clinches on a 3/4 nelson rollup for the pinfall) because it was a clean win for Abercrombie that elevated him, while keeping Aries strong.
Hydra vs. "Old Timer" Jeff King
This is one of those comedy matches where you either really love it or you really don't. I respect people who are in the former category, but I fall in the latter. I've seen a lot of comedy wrestling, good and bad (more TopGun Talwar matches than is healthy for a sane human being), but I personally didn't think it was funny. Jeff King, who's a young kid in an Andre the Giant singlet, who weighs maybe a buck-fifty and does promos in an Ultimate Warrior voice, works the Matt Classic gimmick (he actually predates Classic by quite a bit), claims his massive bearhug put "that young punk" Lou Thesz out of the business. His opponent is Hydra, the Chikara student who's gotten a small cult following lately, and his schtick is pretty funny, between the Brock Lesnar impression and claiming to weigh in at "146....THOUSAND POUNDS." He does sport one of my biggest indy wrestling pet peeves though...the abs made of magic marker. Anyway yeah, this was a comedy contest consisting mainly of punches and intentionally cheesy stomps, with maybe one bump the entire match. They each avoid each other's finisher (the bearhug and the dreaded HYDRALOCK) before Hydra grabs a handful of tights on a schoolboy for the win. Again, I can see why a lot of people would love this, but it didn't make me laugh.
ICW/ICWA Tex-Arkana TV Title Match, $7,500 Challenge: Larry Sweeney (c) vs. Bryan Alvarez
The most built-up match of the show (and the one that drew by far the most interest from the Internet community for obvious reasons) and it actually turned out to be the second-best match of the show!
Sweeney, who never forgets the smallest detail, has a "special referee" Buddy Lee Brooks, a referee from "The Loop" (no, not the cancelled midseason Fox sitcom) to ensure that the ICW/ICWA Tex-Arkana Title Match would be refereed credibly. Sweeney gives him full refereeing authority, along with Bryce, over the match. Alvarez gets a massive pop and even a couple of the vaunted STREAMERS~!
Alvarez, who has only wrestled very sporadically in the past four years, puts in a shockingly good performance here, exchanging chain holds with Sweeney and lighting up Sweeney all around the ring with some stiff chops in the early going. Sweeney works Alvarez over for most of the match, complete with cheating and interference from his referee. Sweeney even GARVIN STOMPS~! Alvarez! Alvarez turns on the comeback for a big pop, and of course Sweeney has to do the "ass hanging out" spot for extra effect. Alvarez gets a textbook flying elbow and dropkick, and after fighting off a superplex (which bumps Bryce) Alvarez goes for a big SWANTON BOMB and...completely whiffs it (oh well.) The crooked ref performs a slow count, and shortly after Alvarez gets a German Suplex, but keeps his shoulders down for a dual pin (counted by each ref.)
This was classic 80's sports entertainment done very well, and in my mind, exceeded expectations for a Sweeney/Alvarez match. Sweeney continues to be one of the most enjoyable performers in the indies today.
Arik Cannon and Josh Abercrombie vs. Tyler Black and The Super Amazing Monkey
I'm not including the Cannon/Black singles match that led to this because it was really short and didn't have any parts particularly worth mentioning. This was basically a sports entertainment tag, with Black getting worked over while fans wanted THE MONKEY. The monkey tags in and CLEANS HOUSE to a huge pop, including the monkey flip and a tease of THE GORILLA PRESS~! The monkey is unmasked to reveal Jimmy Jacobs, a nice little surprise treat for the crowd. D.I.F.H. get in a couple of their TV doubleteams before Black falls victim to a twisting brainbuster and the Glimmering Warlock. This was probably more of a live crowd experience, but translated to DVD fairly decently. Man, they loved that monkey though.
Eddie Kingston vs. Samoa Joe
Right after this show happened, a lot of people gave this match flack for saying it was "too short" and a "Joe squash." Well, neither one of those is true. Yeah, it only goes about 10 minutes, and yeah, there's no point where you think Kingston can beat Joe, but it's still a heck of a ride. This match is two heavyweights just kicking the shit out of each other and throwing bombs with very little dead spots in between, and it's a lot of fun. King jumps Joe at the bell with not a lot of success, and after the STJoe, the chop/kick/kneedrop combo and the bootscrapes in rapid succession, you think it'll be just another by-the-numbers Joe match. But Kingston WILL NOT DIE, wrestling defensively - every time Joe throws some of his huge offense in his way Kingston manages to tag Joe with a big throw or suplex, stunning him to stay in the match. There's a series of kicks by Joe that are so fucking HARD you think Kingston is KO'ed or worse. But STILL Kingston gets up, refusing to back down on srike exchanges. A Dr. Death-like backdrop driver is the death knell for Kingston though, who gets up only to fall to the choke moments later. This isn't a classic, but it's an exciting heavyweight slugfest that manages to tell a good story as well.
This was a better "debut show" than 99% of the indy promotions out there. They got a couple of "draws," promoted a unique match that was of high interest to the core fanbase, and promoted the show effectively (at least online - no idea whether they flyered or did other advertising) through YouTube and press releases. The people organizing the show did everything top-notch, both through DVD presentation and live event setup.
However, this didn't end up being the blowaway event organizers were hoping it would be. Some matches ended up being letdowns (Aries/Abercrombie, Tank/Claudio) or outright misfires (the women's match) and the gauntlet match drew little interest from the live crowd. Kingston/Joe and Sweeney/Alvarez are both a lot of fun, but whether that's enough to secure a buy is up in the air.
That said, the promotion has a lot of potential to bring something great to the Midwest indy scene once a set roster with a long-term, clear direction is developed, and fans become more familiar with the theme of the promotion. High-end, unique matches along with some Super Amazing Monkey seemes to be a winning formula, although booking out-there first-time matches is always a gamble.
Anyway, to sum up this overly verbose review - this show isn't a resounding winner, but it's worth a look, and in the future it's easy to see FSM developing some fantastic events once a few kinks are worked out.