Despite having been a fan of pro-wrestling for the best part of the last three decades my live experience so far had been limited to a WWF house show at the Royal Albert Hall back in 1994, Monday Night Raw at the O2 area in 2015 and NXT at the BIC in Bournemouth in 2016 (and a couple of mid-to-late 90s UK indie shows when they came through Guernsey).
Now though I can firmly say I’ve had my first experience of what could be called a ‘proper’ indie wrestling (non-WWE for the most part) show, thanks to German promotion Westside Xtreme Wrestling’s (WXW) foray into the UK at The Dome in Tufnell Park, London on Saturday 24th March 2018.
The first thing that was rather different, aside from the size of the venue (capacity around 400) was that it was all standing and with no security barricades at ringside so we were literally stood against the ring.
This instantly made the whole thing even more immediate and gave it a similar atmosphere to a rock show of a similar size with the audience all in it together and there to have a great time.
I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the matches but across two and half hours we were treated to seven contests at least four of which were brilliant (and all were at least good).
Before the part of the show that was recorded for WXW’s on demand service, WXW NOW, the show began with a brief but nicely done cruiserweight style match A-Kid and Adam Chase of Spain’s Whitewolf Wrestling.
The main show then began with a match for the WXW Shotgun championship between Bobby Gunns and TK Cooper. This set the tone for the night as both men had strong support from the crowd, in some cases I think down to familiarity as well as character.
The match itself was a decent affair but I found it hard to get on with Gunns’ ‘King of Smoke Style’ persona and the crowd split with UK favourite Cooper left this one feeling particularly imbalanced.
The next match saw WXW’s first women’s champion Killer Kelly take on British female wunderkind Millie McKenzie.
The pair put on a great match that showcased both’s talents from mat wrestling, to strikes, to Millie’s famed German suplexes. Despite a nasty cut above the eye it was Killer Kelly that got the win with a suplex of her own making for the first highlight match of the night.
Coming to the ring to The Cramps Human Fly instantly had me even more firmly behind CCK’s Chris Brookes than I was previously was he took on Marius Al-Ani.
The contrast of styles from Brookes’ anarchic edged Strong Style to Al-Ani’s strong man work made for an interesting match up and I particularly liked Brookes playing on his height to escape holds and the like.
Much like the opener though, while the guys in the ring did a good job, the division in the crowd made it feel a bit imbalanced and less impactful.
The last match before the break brought the night’s first surprise as, following the announcement of a new tag team tournament from WXW later in the year, we got a qualifying match pitting UK team The Hunter Brothers against antipodean import favourites Aussie Open.
In a match that came close to stealing the show for me both teams gave their all for a chance in the tournament with big tag moves aplenty building on the standard tag match format and making it into something far more interesting.
While the Hunters were good, for me Aussie Open stole the show with their great mix of styles. Mark ‘Dunkzilla’ Davis’ hard hitting heavyweight technique perfectly complemented ‘Aussie Arrow’ Kyle Fletcher’s faster game and it was a treat to see Davis hit his signature move, the brilliantly named ‘Close your eyes and count to fuck!’ piledriver.
During the break I headed to the merch stand where I had the chance to buy a t-shirt directly from Aussie Open and let them know how much I enjoyed their match and they were a thoroughly nice (if somewhat sweaty, having come straight for the ring) pair of chaps.
This was another aspect of the show that was great, that the wrestlers were selling their own gear and were all perfectly friendly and approachable for photos or just to have a brief chat.
Later in the evening I also spoke to Chris Brookes and Jack Sexsmith (something a personal hero) and the same could be said for them as well.
The second part of the night began with another surprise as the aforementioned Mr Sexsmith, who hadn’t been announced, took on arrogant American, ‘The Prince of a Pro’, Alexander James.
From the second his entrance music, The Divinyls I Touch Myself, hit and the crowd began singing along, it was clear which side everyone was on and, led by Sexsmith, the pair delivered a highly entertaining contest mixing comedy and wrestling perfectly.
While he put up a strong fight and hit a few of his trademark moves, the Pearl Neckbreaker and the LGBDDT, Sexsmith came up short against his larger opponent but received a strong ovation for his efforts as he left the ring.
The final match of the night was a four-way dance for the WXW Unified World Championship pitting champion Ilja Dragunov against Rink Kampf’s Walter, David Starr and Progress World Champion Travis Banks.
While I was familiar with three of the competitors Dragunov was totally new to me and impressed hugely, I can see why he’s their champion, as he showed an ability to mix cruiserweight style wrestling with strong style and even managed to stand toe-to-toe with man mountain Walter as they traded strikes all while being a great character.
All four did some great things both in and out of the ring with many near falls and signature moments building and building to a great climax that saw Dragunov get the pin on Starr to retain.
This closed an already great night’s wrestling on a high and I don’t think I could have asked for more for a first indie show experience, and, as a warm up to Progress Wrestling’s Chapter 65 the following day, with a friendly, loud and active crowd and probably the best wrestling I’ve ever seen in the flesh.