Welcome to “Indy Classics Reviewed” where I take a (hopefully!) regular in-depth look at some of the greatest and most memorable indy matches to have taken place since the turn of the century. Do they stand the test of time? Do they live up to the hype?
Background and Context:
In the early stages of the CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship match between Trevor Lee and Roy Wilkins, commentator Brad Stutts makes the rather grandiose claim that this match will take us on a journey “through every era in history of pro wrestling.” Whether they eventually achieved this lofty goal or not is a matter for each viewer to ultimately decide: but what it immediately establishes is that this will be an ambitious and unique match quite unlike any staged before.
This match, and the online furore surrounding it, will likely have been the first time many (myself included) will have encountered CWF. They are a south eastern US based indy, with their headquarters and spiritual home at the Mid-Atlantic Sportatorium in Burlington, North Carolina. The match takes place on February 27th 2016 and aired a few weeks later on the promotion’s weekly youtube programme. There are numerous stipulations attached to the match, which initially feel quite cumbersome, but eventually prove to be well thought out, logical and completely justified in the context of the feud as a whole. The match is a *deep breath* No DQ, no holds barred, No Time Limit match, for the CWF Heavyweight Title, with the further stipulation that if Lee loses, he departs the promotion forever. It is clear the match has been booked to have a clear, decisive winner.
From the moment Trevor Lee emerges from behind the curtain this feels like no is no ordinary event. He sells the importance of the match with the intensity of his facial expressions and even appears close to tears. It is easy to think that we may be looking at a guy wrestling for the last time in his home promotion. I am reliably informed that he has even switched his theme music for something more serious than his usual Katy Perry, further emphasizing the cataclysmic nature of the events about to unfold. Anyone familiar with Lee and his widespread bookings with the likes of TNA and PWG could be forgiven for assuming that perhaps he is no longer in a position to fulfill bookings with CWF, further sowing the seed in our minds that he is the more likely loser here.
His opponent Roy Wilkins is someone with whom I was hitherto completely unfamiliar. First impressions are of a run of the mill local indy heel, complete with singlet, slightly soft midriff and whistle blowing manager in the mould of ECW’s Bill Alfonso. However this rather underwhelming first impression is soon dispelled by Roy’s performance throughout this match. As the match commences he does everything he can to establish Trevor as his superior in all aspects of mat wrestling.
The mat work is intense and everything they do feels compelling and important. It genuinely feels that every hold is a struggle and relatively innocuous moves like stomping on a body part feel like major high spots, with the crowd reacting as such. It is here that the stipulations come into their own for the first time. With rope breaks rendered irrelevant, the wrestlers are forced to out wrestle their opponent and find reversals every time a submission hold is applied. It is at this point that the fantastic commentary team come in their own for the first time, informing us that this is a callback to their recent no-ropes match. Indeed the commentators deserve special mention in the way they help us to understand the various nuances of everything that unfolds throughout the match, from describing the wrestlers’ history together, to the role that Wilkins’ manager – Coach Gemini – has had in the history of the promotion, to referencing ways in which Wilkins has cheated in the past. The matwork is punctuated by moments of interference by both coach Gemini and his “young boy” a quite hilarious kid called Chappy. The interference never feels forced or spoils the action in any way, indeed it helps the match to move along at a belting pace. I distinctly remember checking my watch at one point and being stunned to see that over 40 minutes had already elapsed.
Previous reviewers have perfectly summarised this match as one that takes place in three acts. Act 1 sees Lee established as clearly the superior mat wrestler and we get the impression that if this were a fair fight he would most likely be the winner. Alas, this is no fair fight and as we sequence into Act 2 the stipulations again come into play as various members of the heel All Star faction interfere and a multi-man beat down of Lee ensues. I guess you could call this the “Sports Entertainment” segment of the match, where Lee initially desperately staves off the heel faction, before they return a second time, only to be again repelled by what appears to be the face section of the locker-room.
Throughout this segment the commentary team are again invaluable, talking us through the various characters that appear, the feuds that we are being advanced before our very eyes and even covering up nicely for the late arrival of the faces onto the scene. The entire segment, spanning well over 20 minutes very much has a Royal Rumble feel, with ongoing feuds being furthered, while at the same time giving Lee and Wilkins a much needed breather. Lee’s excellent fiery comebacks are a key feature here and serve to pop the crowd at times when the beatdown threatens to become tedious and overdone.
With the heels repelled, we enter Act 3. The odds have now been evened once again – Wilkins has been worn down by the physical dissection performed by Lee in Act 1, while Lee is showing the effects of the prolonged beatdown he suffered in Act 2. Amazingly, the intensity now increases as both men sniff an opportunity to bring the match to an end. Act 3 could be described as a Deathmatch of sorts with several hardcore type spots, involving chairs, a kendo stick and other assorted plunder. That is not to say that the spots are unnecessary or gratuitous however, as they tend to be in many matches of that particular style. The spots are well-built, and there is a real sense of dread as they are skilfully teased. The spots are also unique and without spoiling things totally, there is one particular spot involving a kendo stick to the throat that has me wincing even writing this piece.
Another wonderful example of long term booking paying off is a pile driver spot which leads to a fantastic false finish. Our helpful commentators inform us that the pile driver is an illegal move in CWF but that the underhand Wilkins has on several occasions used the move to defend his title. Months of planning and build look to have paid off when Wilkins hits a flip pile driver, only for Lee to kick out for one of the more memorable and believable near falls I have seen in quite some time.
Further examples of beautiful storytelling are seen in the way that Lee runs through a greatest hits of the finishers he employs in both PWG and TNA: significant moments that the commentators are of course right on-point about calling. When the finish arrives, it is another inspired little nugget that would have been lost on without the commentators’ input: Wilkins taps out after 105 minutes of gruelling action to the very move his manager used when he was a wrestler – while Coach Gemini himself watches helplessly from the ring apron.
As if it were not obvious from my gushing recap above, I love this match. I remember the night that the news broke on twitter that two guys in an obscure indy had had a 105 minute match and I remember rolling my eyes at the apparent self indulgence of such an undertaking. I have seen far more highly regarded workers such as Danielson & Aries or Hero & Punk attempt similar feats of endurance only to fail to hold my interest. I think the difference between this match and others of that ilk is that Lee and Wilkins didn’t set out to go so long just for the sake of having a very long match; they had an intricate story to tell that just happened to take 105 minutes to narrate fully. As a tour de force of booking, long term planning, storyline advancement and execution this match is up there with Ring of Honor’s Cage of Death masterpiece, which I regard as the best US indy match since the turn of the century.
Everything they did made sense, and everything that initially appeared not to make sense was justified or explained perfectly as the story unfolded. This was not just a monumental effort on the part of two men. As I have referenced frequently, the commentators are the glue that hold this whole match together. They are simply magnificent. Both Coach Gemini and Chappy play their roles perfectly without ever being overbearing (as so many valets fail to grasp in modern wrestling). Similarly the middle portion of the match where the faces and heels collide is a welcome diversion and makes me want to tune in again to see those particular feuds develop and unfold. Special mention must go to Roy Wilkins.
While it obviously takes two men to have such a great match, the story told here would never have worked if Roy had not been so unselfish in giving so much to his more well-known rival. His selling, his restraint in putting aside the desire to “get his own stuff in,” and his overall performance here speak volumes to his abilities as a worker and will stand him in good stead in his future career. As for Lee, it is clear that he is one of the fastest rising stars of US indy wrestling and a glittering career awaits.
By all the criteria necessary for a great match, this particular one excels:
• there is a real sense that this is a significant, important event with high stakes at play
• there is intensity and drama throughout
• they manage to hold the audience’s interest for a prolonged period of time
• numerous storylines are advanced and pieces of long term booking have their pay off
• the result is both something of a surprise and satisfying
• there are several spots that will live long in the memory
• by the end of the match, not just the winner, but everyone involved, has been elevated in the eyes of the audience
This match has my absolute highest recommendation. It is my current Match of the Year for 2016 and is completely unique in terms of layout and execution. While the length is intimidating, the effort you put into watching it will pay off in spades and you can watch it right HERE
Huge thumbs up.
Star Rating: ***** (without hesitation!)