Picture credit: Mr Josey Photography (@MrJoseyPhoto)
If you’re the kind of person who’s even vaguely attached to the wrestling Twittersphere, then you can’t help but notice the hype that has been building around this year’s PWG Battle of Los Angeles tournament. The participants were tweeted out in blocks over the course of a few days, and were bookended by two announcements that got the wrestling world buzzing; Cody Rhodes and Jushin Liger. One established star looking to reinvent himself and prove his worth, one all time legend winding down his career while still remaining as relevant as ever. In a year full of great tournaments, BOLA is not going to be one to be missed.
While those two names were obviously the most notable, the other big takeaway is how well represented the UK is this year. Seven of the 24 participants hail from these shores, and if we expand it to include the Dutchman Tommy End, then a full third of the field is made of European talent. That’s a huge statement on how hot the wrestling scene currently is on this side of the pond.
The last year or so has seen a number of these wrestlers break into America, but there are a couple of names who may be less familiar to fans stateside. Zack Sabre Jr has been plying his trade in PWG for a couple of years and is one of their biggest stars. Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll and Mark Andrews all debuted at last year’s Battle of Los Angeles, and are all prominently featured in other promotions around the world; notably NJPW, EVOLVE and TNA. Jack Gallagher will be making his PWG debut this year, but by the time the tournament rolls around fans should have got a good look at him in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic, where he seems to be one of the featured stars.
That leaves Mark Haskins and Pete Dunne. Two of the UK’s best and brightest. Two wrestlers who have really started to come into their own, And two wrestlers who should fit right in with the style of wrestling the PWG crowd has come to expect.
Mark Haskins has been a fixture of the UK scene for many years. In fact I saw him on a show nine years ago at one of the last events I attended before rediscovering my love of wrestling last year. He has adapted his style to include MMA influenced strikes and submissions, but to me it’s in his transitions that he really shines. He finds interesting ways to set up even the simplest moves. If you think you’re safe from a death valley driver when you’re lying on the mat, then you’d better think again!
He recently won the SMASH Wrestling championship on a Progress show, ahead of the joint shows promoted by the two companies, which says a lot about how bright they think his future is. His match with Will Ospreay in Progress last year was the kind of thrilling encounter that proved his technical style is every bit the match for the kind of high flying he could encounter in the BOLA field. He has also had two absolutely storming matches with Sami Callihan this year, where he showed a more vicious side to his offense as the two beat the living hell out of each other all over the arena.
He is matched up with Cedric Alexander in the first round, but his block offers up tantalising first time match ups with Pentagon Jr and Cody Rhodes, as well as rematches with various members of the UK contingent. Or he and Callihan could end up bringing their All Violence tour to the west coast of America. Depending on how eliminations occur in the early rounds, my absolute dream match from the field would be Haskins vs Kyle O’Reilly, as I think their styles would mesh really well and they could put a stunning technical match.
Pete Dunne, the ‘Bruiserweight’, is probably one of the most distinctive performers on the UK indies. A stocky grappler with a bad attitude and a penchant for breaking the rules; he has a massive chip in his shoulder and revels in the jeers of the fans. He makes a great base for high flying wrestlers with his crisp power moves, bruising strikes and, above all, exceptional timing. Roman Reigns isn’t the only person that can catch his opponent in mid-air with a superman punch!
2016 has seen him go up against some of the best high flyers the world has to offer, the highlight of which was his thrilling encounter with Will Ospreay at RevPro’s Summer Sizzler event. While Ospreay was the one standing tall at the end, Dunne put on an outstanding performance and showed why Ospreay was touting him as the next big thing to come out of England. His recent NGW TV match with Zack Gibson showed he can also go toe-to-toe with larger opponents and still utilise his technical skills.
He is matched up with Mark Andrews in the first round of BOLA, which is about as perfect a match up as you could wish for as a debut. They are both very familiar with each other, and the clash of styles will play right into Dunne’s wheelhouse. His bracket offers a brace of high flyers that he could meet in the later rounds; a match up with Kamaitachi looks particularly appealing. Beyond his group, I would love to see him matched up with Pentagon Jr as I have a feeling that would be an absolute war.
There are so many narratives heading into this year’s tournament, but I hope one of the main ones coming out of it is just how many talented wrestlers there are on the UK circuit, beyond the ‘big three’ of Sabre, Scurll and Ospreay. And let the speculation start as to who will be making that transatlantic journey in 2017.