For the past eight years, Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw) has built up a worldwide reputation with their annual 16 Carat Gold Tournament, regularly featuring standout names from the world of wrestling, including the top North American independent talent, stars from Japan and Mexico, and Europe’s best wrestlers. The list of 16 Carat Gold winners reads like a who’s who of top stars, including Chris Hero, Shingo Takagi, Sami Callihan, and El Generico. Bryan Danielson reached the final in a previous tournament. The current wXw Unified World Wrestling Champion, Tommy End, won last year’s tournament.
Since discovering the tournament a few years ago, I have wanted to fly out to Oberhausen in Germany to see one for myself, and finally this year, I was able to secure the free time to be there. Getting there is pretty simple from the UK – if your local airport has flights to Dusseldorf, the flights hardly take any time at all, and from there, it’s just a couple of train stops away to Oberhausen. The town’s pretty nice, not really massive and bustling like big cities, but there is the CentrO area with a big shopping mall, many restaurants and bars along a promenade, plus a big cinema, LegoLand and a Sea Life centre (with a monument to Paul the Octopus, made famous by his World Cup 2010 predictions). There’s also the huge König Pilsener Arena, where I saw posters for a WWE house show being held there in May.
If you’re not familiar with how the 16 Carat Gold Tournament is structured, there’s 16 wrestlers (hence the name of the tournament) competing in a single elimination tournament, held over three days. Friday features the first round, taking up almost the entire show. Saturday has the quarter finals, with the eliminated talent filtering into other matches, and Sunday has the semi-finals, the final in the main event, and anything else that develops throughout the weekend.
Upon arrival, we were informed of two changes to the lineup. Pro Wrestling NOAH star Ricky Marvin was scheduled to be taking part, but he found out too late that his passport had expired, and he wouldn’t be able to fly out. In addition, 2Face had a knee injury, and though willing to participate, wXw President Christian Jakobi pulled him out during the opening ceremony. Marvin was replaced by former WWE star Matt Striker, who was scheduled to take part in the Alternate 4 Way, which would provide a standby in case of injury. 2Face was replaced by the winner of that 4 Way, Toby Blunt.
As results are very much available across the internet, I won’t recap every single match here. Instead, I aim to present what it’s like to be at 16 Carat for all three nights, and some standout moments throughout the weekend.
If you’ve not watched wXw on DVD, then I’m not sure you’ll have seen any promotion with a crowd quite like it. There’s no barriers, and with the exception of one side, there’s no seats. This means that fans surround the ring, and are right on top of the action. The wrestlers have to actually go through the fans to get into the ring, and considering some of the top names involved, that’s quite the level of trust given to wXw’s fans. With the exception of three idiots on Night 1, notable for trying to start something with Chris Hero during the main event, every fan was there to enjoy themselves, cheer or boo who they wanted, have fun, and have a great time. The chants are something else entirely as well. It reminds me of going to a European football away fixture – nothing in Britain even comes close, not even Progress or ICW.
The first night was a good start to the tournament, but with something of an error in card arrangement in my view. Instead of being the main event, the wXw Tag Team Title match between Hot & Spicy (Axel Dieter Jr. & Da Mack) and the Inner City Machine Guns (Ricochet & Rich Swann) was the fourth match on the show, and after the amazing effort both teams displayed, in addition to both teams’ super entertaining entrances and showmanship, the rest of the show simply couldn’t live up to it. Although ICMG were set to head off to England for the two Revolution Pro Wrestling shows, which could have explained why the match was so early, I saw Ricochet and Swann in the building after the show, so they could conceivably have gone on last. Another problem occured in the first proper tournament match between Tommaso Ciampa and “Bad Bones” John Klinger, when the middle rope broke minutes into the match. They recovered well, but the rope break seemed to affect Ciampa’s performances throughout the weekend, as he would continuously test the rope to reassure himself. There were also some styles clashes, most notably KUSHIDA of New Japan being paired with Axel “Axeman” Tischer, the two of them not really meshing well. The last two matches – Adam Cole vs. Trent Baretta, and Chris Hero vs. Freddy Stahl – ended Night 1 on a good note, although Stahl would suffer a knee injury that may keep him out for some time, though Hero was able to cover that well for the match finish.
Following a fun and insightful Q&A session at the Three Sixty Sports Bar on the CentrO Promenade, and a “wXw Olympics” at the Centreville Football Arena, we reconvened for Night 2, and it started with a bang, as Dragon Gate USA Open the Freedom Gate Champion Johnny Gargano brought the fight to the newly christened Big Daddy Walter (Vader is wrestling for wXw in April, he wouldn’t have taken well to “Big Van Walter”). Despite his title reign clocking in at nearly two and a half years now, in addition to his great work elsewhere, Gargano still has many critics. I suggest they watch his match with Walter to see if they still doubt him after that. One of my personal revelations over the weekend was the overall performance of Matt Striker. Having spent the majority of his time in WWE as a manager or a commentator, I would have thought that his wrestling would be somewhat rusty, despite having worked a few independent dates since his WWE release. As it turned out, not only was his workrate very good, particularly in the tournament against Karsten Beck on Night 1, but he’s very good at working the fans, especially those as hardcore as wXw’s, and adapting to them. He and Trent Baretta formed a very fun tag team that took the wXw Tag Team Titles from Hot & Spicy on Night 2, only to lose them right back to Dieter Jr. and Da Mack on Night 3. I’m open to seeing him in a more regular role in bigger independent promotions, as he has much to offer to the current scene.
The main event of Night 2, the wXw Unified World Wrestling Title match between champion Tommy End and challenger Jonathan Gresham, was an excellent contest, serenaded with “This is Perfect” chants from the wXw fanbase. Whilst I personally didn’t go that far, it proved to be one of the better matches so far in 2014, with Gresham putting in one hell of an effort in his attempt to dethrone End. Fans sometimes use Gresham’s short stature against him, but he is one of the best pure wrestlers around in today’s scene, and he was more than capable in standing up to End’s hybrid kickboxing and striking skills. End is well on his way to being one of the most complete wrestlers outside of the big companies, and it will be an injustice if he is not used regularly in the States very soon.
The Night 2 afterparty gave way to a final day tradition, carried over from the old Catch Wrestling Association – the Fans vs. Wrestlers Football Game. Various members of the wXw roster, including some of the visiting American stars, piled onto the indoor pitch to take on any fans who dared to finish the game alive against them. This resulted in many pile-on bundles, Figure Four Leglocks, big boots, and even a Dojo student being powerbombed and chokeslammed onto a table, which didn’t break. Trent Baretta even thought about doing a moonsault off the goalposts onto the poor guy. Nobody kept score, but the wrestlers were declared the winners, for some reason. I blame Christian Jakobi.
Four wrestlers remained heading into Night 3 – Big Daddy Walter, Adam Cole, Chris Hero and Axel Tischer. The first semi-final saw a rematch from two recent Ring of Honor battles, in addition to a PWG Title match, as Hero renewed hostilities with Cole. Despite being the opening match, it could have fit into any main event slot on most cards around the world, and unlike the aforementioned recent matches, this time Hero finally got the better of the ROH and PWG World Champion. The other semi-final, sadly, turned into a TNA-worthy overbooked mess. Walter and Axeman were having a good match, with fans anticipating a potential rematch of the 2010 final between Walter and Hero, when many people, including the members of Keel Holding, Tischer’s manager Svetlana Kalashnikova, Walter’s partner in the AUT-siders Robert Dreissker, and then finally Tommy End, all got involved. The end result saw Walter disqualified when the referee caught Tischer’s wXw Shotgun Title in Walter’s hands with Axeman laid out in the ring, despite the fact that it was End who clocked Axeman with it to screw with Walter. This finish, and a rambling 15 minute plus promo by Carnage that seemed to have no real point to it, completely killed the crowd, until the Sumerian Death Squad, KUSHIDA and Toby Blunt revived it with a good match, and then the aforementioned rematch with Hot & Spicy vs. Baretta and Striker kicked it up several gears.
This brought us to the final – a match between Chris Hero and Axel Tischer, which I doubt many people envisioned as the tournament final heading in. Though most saw this as a foregone conclusion that Hero would become the first man to win the 16 Carat Gold tournament twice, credit goes to him and Axeman for putting together a very good and satisfying tournament final, where some seeds of doubt crept in, particularly when Kalashnikova got involved, turning the tide Axeman’s way. However, Hero would deal with Kalashnikova, and after several elbows, he finally put Tischer away to claim his second tournament victory, and his first since 2007.
Whilst I was a little disappointed that I did not get the legendary blowaway tournament I was hoping for on my first trip to Oberhausen, I was happy that I got to see some really good matches, some great performances, that I got to be a part of a crowd I’ve always wanted to experience first hand, and that I got to see some company history being made. Whilst not every entrant was used to their full potential – Tommaso Ciampa and Ryuichi Kawakami come to mind here – many made great use of their platforms, particularly Johnny Gargano, Adam Cole, Trent Baretta and Matt Striker. I came away completely rating Hot & Spicy as a top tag team who should hopefully get more opportunities outside of Germany in the near future, and Svetlana Kalashnikova was great all three nights in managing Tischer to the final, and providing on if she knows English or not (I wasn’t able to work this out whilst out there), she would be a great act for anyone in any European promotion.
If the tournament wasn’t the best it could have been, the same can’t be said for the general experience and the fans I came into contact with throughout the weekend. German wrestling fans are amongst the most passionate in the world, and the ones I spoke with are all intelligent and know their stuff. wXw has their atmosphere and presentation just right for their audience, and it was something I was happy to be a part of. It also forms as a tool that British promotions could work with. Preston City Wrestling have their Road to Glory tournament that could take on a similar form down the line, and Southside has the Speed King tournament that I was at last year, though that’s all in one day. Any tournament format that establishes itself to the point that it can bring in fans from many countries, and keep them occupied for a whole weekend full of activities, accessible after-show food and parties, and chances to make new friends with other fans, is something that should be studied. There’s reasons why shows like 16 Carat Gold, PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles, and lately AIW’s JT Lightning Invitational Tournament have become anticipated every year. Stack the lineup, create surrounding activities, and you’ll draw big time.
Personally, I look forward to returning to Oberhausen and to Westside Xtreme Wrestling. If I’m free for their World Triangle League with Combat Zone Wrestling and Big Japan, I’ll head over then. If wXw continues to create big storylines with their local talent, and brings in more big names, that should be another tournament that could well top this weekend’s, and should.