The wrestling world is a complicated place right now. There is more product that probably ever before, and with so much of it available at the click of a button, it can be an absolute nightmare to keep up with sometimes. In fact, I currently have a backlog of about 5 shows I need to get through, which is constantly being added to on a weekly basis.
With that being said, it’s very easy to miss out with so many great matches taking place all over the world. So I decided I would take a look at some of those matches; the hidden gems you could call them, that have maybe slipped under the radar compared to some of the more high-profile stuff.
Looking at the months of January and February, here are some of the hidden gems I’ve stumbled upon so far this year.
Kylie Rae vs Tessa Blanchard, Zelo Pro ‘Milwaukee Meltdown’
Zelo Pro is a promotion I knew very little about going into this match. I’d heard their name on occasion but outside of that, they were just another of the thousand or so Indy promotions I planned on getting around to watching at some point in the next decade. That was until I found out about this match.
Kylie Rae is probably one of my favourite wrestlers in the world right now. If I see her name on a show, then the chances are I’m going to enjoy her match regardless of who she’s facing. Her opponent here is Tessa Blanchard, a wrestler who many have touted as the future of this business and someone I myself have never really been that excited by. Not that she isn’t good, I just maybe haven’t seen enough of her to really get what all the fuss was about. Well now I understand.
This match was the main event of the promotions first show of the year and was a 2/3 falls match for the Women’s Championship, a title that Tessa has held since April last yearwhen she actually defeated Kylie at Zelo Pro Arrival. From the get-go, the fans are into this one. Loudly cheering Kylie and booing Tessa like a proper crowd should. It was the classic good vs bad dynamic that is so often missing from wrestling. The crowd at the Turner Hall Ballroom fill the air with chants of ‘Kylies number one’ and ‘new champ’, each one just pissing off Tessa even more. Blanchard was the perfect villain, exuding that special kind of aura and charisma that makes you want to hate her. She’s better than you, from the way she looks to the way she moves. She has star written all over her.
Each fall was different, with the first being a feeling out process, each competitor trying to get the upper hand on the other until a roll up surprised everyone. The second was a proper fight, Tessa feeling embarrassed as she sadistically attacked her challenger. Showing a sense of pride as she worked the arm and collarbone that Kylie has had problems with in the past. The closing stretch turned into a battle of near falls, each one bringing a roar from the crowd. Every person in that room wanted Kylie to win, and her second roll up brought a scene of pure jubilation that it always great to see.
If you love a classic fan favourite vs villain match with two of the best in the world, then I urge you to watch this one. It’s even available to watch for free here, so you have no excuses.
David Starr vs Terry Thatcher, OTT ‘Contenders 13’
David Starrs narrative in OTT over the past year really has been incredible. Brought in to help his friend Jordan Devlin slay the beast WALTER; his jealousy soon took over, resulting in him turning on his friend and stopping him from getting that win over the champ. The story has been told so well through the many video packages of That Crooked Gentleman, that I could never do it justice, but if you are unfamiliar with the stuff going on in OTT right now, then I strongly urge to check them out.
This match was his first since turning on his friend, and the first chance for the OTT crowd to see the new dark side of the once beloved Starr. A match that has been somewhat overlooked due it being included on a card with more high-profile contests between Devlin/A-Kid and Scotty Davis/Mike Bailey, I personally enjoyed this one the most.
The crowd hated Starr from the moment he stepped through the curtain, and he milked it like the pro he is. His opponent is someone who has really upped his game for OTT lately andhas become one of the most popular guys on the roster. Thatcher was the perfect foil for Starr in a match that was designed solely to get Starr over as a villain and give him a win before facing Devlin at Homecoming. The character work from Starr her was just incredible and showed to me why he is one of the best in the game right now. Knowing exactly how to the push the buttons of the angry Dublin crowd, with his slow and methodical style he had every single soul in the room going against him. Every action and movement he made meant something, showing a special kind of arrogance that quickly cemented him as the most hated man in Ireland.Everything about this match, from the crowd insults to the sneaky roll up was played perfectly. If you want to see exactly how to be a villain, go watch this match.
Kobe Durst vs Chris Dickinson, & Josh Alexander vs Matt Angel, C*4 ‘Nightmare City’
C*4 is one of those promotions that rarely gets talked about, yet constantly puts on great matches in front of one of the better crowds in Indy wrestling at the St. Anthony’s Hall in Ottawa. The two matches I’ll be looking at both took place at their recent Nightmare City event in January and are both bloody awesome for very different reasons.
The first, between Kobe Durst and Chris Dickinson, a sprint of a brawl that saw both men battle their go all out right from the bell, going from 0-60 in no time and lasting just under 10 minutes. There was no feeling out process, no technical or submission work; just two guys brawling and trying to hurt the other. Dickinson even brought a door into the ring which got a big ovation from the crowd. If that doesn’t get you interested, then I don’t know what will.
The other match was the main event of the show for the C*4 Championship, with Matt Angel making his first defence of the title against the gatekeeper of Canadian wrestling, Josh Alexander. The Walking Weapon is the unsung star of the Indy scene in my opinion, and any time her steps into the ring, you are pretty much guaranteed a great match. Angel is the underdog of the company, a smaller champ who had a great 2018 that really made the C*4 crowd take to him
This match was a much better match in terms on in-ring action. A battle of size vs speed that saw the champ throw everything he had at his bigger challenger, before ultimately failing. I also loved the fact that after repeated attempts, Angel couldn’t pull off his Fallen Angel finisher, knowing that if he could the victory would be have been his for certain, bringing similarities between the Omega/Okada feed with Kenny never being able to hit the One-Winged Angel. If a rematch happensbetween these two, I expect that story to be touched on throughout. A really good match that can be watch one on IW.TV.
Kylie Rae vs Isaiah Velazquez, Freelance ‘Sleepless in Chicago’ – 1st February
If anybody has ever watched a Freelance show, then you will know about how popular Kylie Rae is in that company. if you haven’t, then you really need to, because that woman is as over as over can get. You can’t blame them really, Kylie is bloody awesome, and the minute she burst through the curtain with her smiley face and happy attitude it’s impossible not get behind her and start cheering for her instantly. The relationship between the fans and Kylie has built up gradually over the past year, the majority of which Kylie was embroiled in a bloody feud with her farmer tag partner, GPA. After defeating her rival in an I Quit match at Too Legit to Quit in December, Kylie only had one place to go, that being the main event, and oh did she get there.
The scene was set, the main event of Sleepless in Chicago, Isaias Velazquez stood in the centre of the ring, having been the champion since August last year and having defeated all comers. He issued an open challenge to whoever wanted a shot at his title. Enter Kylie, the roar from the crown defeatingas she smiled her way to the ring. There was an arrogance about her. She’s earned herself a spot in the main event and she, along with her adoring fans know it.
The match itself isn’t going to be on anyone’s MOTY list, but it didn’t have to be. It wasn’t about stars or work-rate; this match was a story, a story of the ultimate babyface overcoming the unbeatable champion in front of the people who truly adore her. It’s everything that wrestling is about. The underdog overcoming the champ, the little woman defeating the big strong man that nobody else could beat. Kylie was at her best until the very end and her eventual victory brought a roar as loud as you’ll hear anywhere. A fantastic match with the perfect ending. Go watch it here and thank me later.
Momo Watanabe vs Jamie Hayter, Stardom, Kyoto, 2nd February
I’m still a bit of a newbie when it comes to Stardom, having only signed up for their on-demand in December. So, while I may not know an awful lot about the history of the Joshi world, I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have seen so far. The colourful characters, the fun stables and obviously the wonder that is Natsu Samire. Stardom has quickly become one of my favourite promotions.
One of the wrestlers who has impressed me the most in my short time as a fan is Jamie Hayter. Jamie was someone I was pretty familiar with from the UK scene, but someone I hadn’t really seen that much of outside of the occasional match. She made her Stardom debut during the 5Star Grand Prix last year, before joining Oedo Tai at the beginning of this year. She quickly took to the group through her impressive character work. Appearing mostly in tag matches, it wasn’t until her match with Momo Watanabe in Kyoto that we really saw what Jamie can do.
Challenging for the Wonder of Stardom title against possibly the best wrestler in the company right now was a big task for her, one which I personally think she passed with flying colours. From the get-go, she added a different dynamic to the usual mad dash, strong style type matches we get from Stardom, working over the right knee of the champ while constantly antagonizing both the crowd and Momo. She even matched the champ in the strike department, throwing in heavy forearms and sneaking in the occasional strike to the knee when needed. It was a smart performance from Hayter, and one that really cemented her as not only a great character, but a damn good wrestler too. With her Stardom tour recently ending, it may be a few months before we see her back in a Stardom ring, but after this performance I’m sure a lot of people will be looking forward to seeing what she can do in the future. The recent match between Watanabe and Jungle Kyona may be getting MOTY praise, but I feel like this matchshould be getting a lot more praise than it is.
Daisuke Sekimoto vs Yuji Hino, Zero 1, Dream Series, 2nd February
Following on with my Japanese Indy education, I’ve recently been branching into other, non-New Japan and Stardom promotions. One man who has really helped me on my path is the muscle monster, Daisuke Sekimoto. The freelancer seems to show up in pretty much every Independent promotion in the country, and through his awesome strong style matches, I have been introduced to others like Kohei Sato, Ryota Homa, and now the big old bastard that is Yuji Hino.
The two absolute units squared off in the main event at Zero-1’s Dream Series event on February 2nd. Now, when I think about Japanese wrestling, this is the kind of match that comes to mind. Two big beefy bastards running into each other with lariats and chops galore, and this is exactly what I got in this match. The fact it went to a 30-minute draw made it even more wonderful. I’m not usually a fan of bigger guys going over 20 minutes as I feel the strong style stuff works better in shorter, more sprint like matches, but this one worked so well that I didn’t even realize it had gone 30 minutes until the bell rang. Such was my enjoyment of this spectacle. Sekimoto was at his best against a man who dwarfed him in size, and this quickly became a fight of who was bigger, stronger and who could hit harder. Hino even hitting a frog splash that would kill most people.
The last 5 minutes or so was a collection of German suplexes and last second kick outs, made even better by the noise from the rapturous crowd at the Shin-Kiba 1st ring venue in Tokyo. Every moment of this was wonderful, and it really deserves to be seen by more people. The match is available to watch for free here.
Sadkampf (Dominic Garrini & Kevin Ku) vs The Work Horsemen (Anthony Henry & James Drake), Black Label Pro, Unplugged, 2nd February
Like I said about the above match, I bloody love a good old strong style, slug fest with a couple of big bastards hitting each other hard as fuck. If that sounds like something you may also be a fan of, this this is the match for you.
Two of the most underrated teams on the US Indies, this match was one I was intrigued about going into Black Label Pro’s ‘Unplugged event. Both Anthony Henry and James Drake are guys who are criminally under looked in wrestling, and if I had my way then Henry would be on every card in the land kicking people as hard as he can. The guy is just awesome. Their opponents here have slowly been making aname for themselves since they began teaming together last year. Garrini seems to be recovering from his awful Evolve run, and Ku is one of those guys who gets little to no buzz outside of the Southern scene yet impresses me every time I see him.
Like I said, this was hard hitting from the start to the finish. Consisting mostly of big meaty strikes and lots of brawling, it quickly became not just a wrestling match, but a test of which team is tougher than the other. There was nothing flashy, noflips or over pretentious moves with fancy names; just four guys wanting to beat each other up. A match with a closing stretch as exciting as anything else you’ll see on the Indies right now.
All four guys looked a lot more battered and bruised at the end of the match than they did at the start, and I imagine they were all a little sore the next morning. If you love seeing a hard-hitting scrap, then this is certainly the match for you.