The idea of reviewing wrestling events I’ve attended over the past 28 years has always appealed to me, but there’s one major stumbling block to this: I have the worst memory of just about any human walking the face of the earth.
That might sound hyperbolic but it effects everything I do, from missing loved ones birthday’s down to really basic stuff like forgetting the reason I went into the kitchen 5 minutes ago (I was looking for Chinese food).
Thankfully the internet exists and my friends haven’t had nearly as much head trauma as I have so – after a lot of researching and memory jogging chats – I’d like to present to you the first in a series of three articles covering some of the most memorable wrestling shows I’ve ever been to.
Notes From The Audience 1. The One With The Australian Giant
Event: WWA Show
Date: November 29, 2002
Location: Birmingham, England
Arena: NEC Arena
The NEC is one of the best venues in the UK when it comes to experiencing an entertainment medium like Wrestling. Unlike some of the decrepit halls, arenas and stadiums in this country (some of which seem to have been designed to cram as many people into spine rearranging torture devices as possible) the NEC actually feels like an American arena.
I’ve attended so many shows over the years where my view has been obstructed by lighting gantries and neoclassic columns I’ve lost count, but the NEC has a clear line of sight from virtually every seat in the place.
Combine that with an easy to reach location and you’ve got the makings of a near perfect venue. In hindsight though it was probably the worst venue for a company like the WWA to run a show.
I understand there’s a certain amount of prestige to be garnered by being able to say “we ran a show in the NEC” in conversations with other people in the business, but when you sell less than 10% of the available seats you end up looking distinctly small time.
The cavernous arena, immortalised by TV shows like Gladiators (which regularly featured shots of thousands of enthusiastic fans), felt like a mausoleum on this evening. Had I wanted to I could have hidden under one of the black sheet covered seating sections and lived there, without being discovered, until Crufts came to town months later.
The show opened with new WWA Commissioner™️ Mike Sanders (who came down to the ring to Metallica’s Enter Sandman, confusing the hell out of the audience because he was neither drunk nor swinging a kendo stick around his head like he was trying to swat at invisible fairies) reminding everyone that HE was the WWA Commissioner™️ and it was his job, as WWA Commissioner™️ to Commission things within the WWA.
His first act of the night as WWA Commissioner™️ was the announcement of the main event tag team match between the teams of Malice (who?) and Buff Bagwell (oh ok) vs Sting (wooooooo!!!!!) and Lex Luger (Ahhhhh!!!! Oh my goddddddd!!!).
He was cut off by Joe E Legend who did the usual heel thing of running down Birmingham (to an odd mixture of cheers and boos) and questioning WWA Commissioner™️ Mike Sander’s qualifications for the lofty position of WWA Commissioner™️ (a fair point, he was only a 4 year pro at this point).
Despite remaining calm for most of the promo WWA Commissioner™️ Mike Sanders eventually lost his cool when Legend called him a “sexually frustrated Backstreet Boy” and booked the two in a match later that evening. Virtually no one cared.
Shark Boy vs. Nate ‘Spyder’ Webb
The opening match was a solid if unspectacular Cruiserweight match featuring then rising stars Shark Boy and Nate “I’m Wearing My Spider-man Pyjamas” Webb.
While the contest never hit the heights of WCW’s Cruiserweight division circa 1996 it certainly kicked the show off with a bang thanks to some crisp exchanges and the first sighting of some Jap-Lucha moves that would eventually work their way into British wrestling over the next few years. Nate Webb inspected the lights for Shark Boy after a Diamond Dust.
Konnan vs. Norman Smiley
When evil Ivory trader Kurtz uttered his immortal last words, “The horror! The horror!” In Jospeh Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness he might have been reflecting on his own terrible life and journey up to that point. Another plausible explanation might be that his consciousness as a fictional character had transcended the book entirely, allowing him to describe this match.
“It can’t be that bad!” you say, well let’s run through the elements that, by themselves, can derail any match. No crowd reaction? Yep. Ultra slow pace? Yes. Botched moves? Absolutely. This is probably the worst match I’ve ever seen in person. At one point these two managed to botch a hiptoss. A bloody hiptoss.
The one bright spot of the match was Disco Inferno on commentary (which was being played through the PA system in the arena) delivering one of the all time classic Kayfabe cover ups by exclaiming, “look at Konnan, showing distain for his opponent by drinking some water!” As the knackered Lucha legend rolled to the outside gasping for air, desperately chugging on the nearest bottle of water. He looked like James Bond frantically trying to activate his defibrillator after being poisoned in Casino Royale.
Konnan eventually went over with botched move number 37. At least no one vomited.
Frankie Kazarian & Nathan Jones vs. Disco Inferno & Johnny Swinger
The immediate thought going through my head when I first saw Nathan Jones was, “Jesus, this guy is huge! I wonder how long it will take Vince to sign him?” The answer was: a few weeks.
Kazarian, Disco Inferno and Swinger did the heavy lifting and constructed a pretty solid tag team match leaving Jones free to do two surprisingly smooth and intense hot tag sequences before getting the pin on Disco Inferno.
After the match my best friend and I couldn’t stop talking about the huge Australian guy and how much potential he had. This was in the days before YouTube and in-depth wrestling reviews so we had no idea just how green Nathan Jones was.
Sadly for Jones he never stopped being green and his wrestling career lasted about 2 years before he sensibly retired (while the WWE was on tour in Australia) to pursue an acting career.
He would go on to have minor but pivotal roles in Troy, The Condemned, the Conan The Barbarian remake and a major role in the acclaimed Mad Max: Fury Road.
It’s safe to say that, despite the fact he’s no Daniel Day-Lewis, his acting career has eclipsed his wrestling career by a significant margin.
“Hardcore Midget Match”: Teo vs. Puppet (with special guest referee Midajah)
It’s really jarring to rewatch hardcore matches from this era. By this point in time they were all played for laughs which – when you take into account what we now know about concussive brain injuries that were often the result of these matches – makes for a difficult viewing experience.
This match was mercifully short (no pun intended I promise) and forgettable, save for the not at all funny harassment Midajah had to put up with from some of the fans.
Teo ended the difficult to watch match with a powerbomb for the 3 count. Some in the crowd cheered, some booed, the wrestlers posed and celebrated like they’d just headlined Wrestle Kingdom while my friends and I began to lose the will to live.
WWA Commissioner™️ Mike Sanders vs. Joe E Legend
While this was a decent wrestling match when compared to the previous bouts (which admittedly wasn’t hard) virtually no one in the audience card about A. The match itself or B. The participants.
In all honesty there’s only one thing I remember about it: WWA Commissioner™️ Mike Sanders and Joe E Legend throwing the match plan out of the window and doing a prolonged pin exchange spot when they realised the referee (who looked very old) had real difficulty getting down and making a reasonable looking 3 count.
Every time one of them kicked out at 2.9 his opponent would admonish the ref for taking at least 5 seconds to get down to the mat to make the count.
This went on for about 5 minutes as the wrestlers decided to give the referee (who didn’t seem to understand the rules of professional wrestling) the cardio work out of a lifetime.
It stopped being funny very quickly and lead to the crowd turning on the match which meant that at least one of the participants (the ref) was getting a reaction.
WWA Commissioner™️ Mike Sanders went over to the sound of crickets chirping, tumble weeds rolling past, one guy at the back coughing…you get the idea.
Three-Way Match: Sabu vs. Perry Saturn vs. Simon Diamond
Finally, something for the crowd to sink their teeth into! The masses came alive for Perry Saturn (who had a right go at a member of the audience on his way down to the ring because Scott Steiner wasn’t there and, you know, somebody had to do it), went back to sleep for Simon Diamond but exploded when Sabu came down to the ring.
What proceeded was a 12 minute match that demonstrated the intricacies of technical wrestling and ring psychology…only joking! Sabu started blasting everyone with chair shots and all semblance of pacing went out of the window quicker than Bran Stark.
The heels teamed up and worked over the homicidal, suicidal, genocidal, regicidal, death-defying maniac for a while so he could take a breather on the mat until Saturn and Diamond turned on each other and worked a few spots. Then the tables came out and everything went to shit.
The first table fell to pieces and crumbled into a pile of rubble the second Saturn got within 5 feet of it. It was as far removed from a Japanese Table as anything in wrestling history.
In a strange twist of fate the replacement table Sabu retrieved from under the ring was a super mega Japanese Table (probably because it was a non gimmicked table) which refused to budge no matter what was thrown at it.
At this point Sabu went into full on beast mode, pinned Simon Diamond after a springboard chair assisted leg drop and celebrated by jumping off the top rope putting himself through the stubborn table.
As part of his post match celebrations Sabu grabbed a plastic bin from ringside and hurled it at a member of the ring crew who had spent most of the match trying to clean up the ringside area which, by now, resembled The Capitol Wasteland from Fallout 3. Sabu didn’t appreciate the clean up crew and continued having a tantrum as he walked back up the ramp.
You might think that sounds unprofessional but it was actually quite nice to see someone taking pride in their work on a night when a lot of other people seemed to be phoning in their performances. Speaking of phoning it in…
Main Event: Sting &Lex Luger vs. Buff Bagwell & Malice
There might not have been many people in attendance on this night but they made a lot of noise for the main event. Sting and Lex Luger entered the ring together to a huge pop that made up for the tepid reactions most of the performers had received all night.
Buff and Malice did a decent job of working the crowd for the first two minutes and cutting the ring in half until Sting hit some of his signature moves and tagged in white hot 44 year old baby face Lex Luger who delivered a couple of running elbows before lifting Malice up into a Torture Rack and…the bell rang…that was it. Match over. No tap out, no count just a Montreal Screw Job ending. The main event had lasted less than 5 minutes.
Buff, Malice and everyone in the audience looked completely confused as Sting and Lex Luger were announced as the winners, turned their backs on everyone after a polite wave and walked to the back.
The inadvertent double turn was complete when Buff Bagwell and Malice climbed the ropes and thanked the fans while maintaining a look of confusion and frustration.
After Promoter/Commentator Andrew McManus said goodbye to the bemused crowd people started to file out of the venue while trying to make sense of what they’d just seen.
I waited around for a while to see if anyone would come out from the back to sign autographs and eventually bumped into WWA Commissioner™️ Mike Sanders. When I asked him what had happened with the finish to the main event he told me that Sting and Lex Luger had been working 5 minute matches all week.
At the time we were so starved of decent live wrestling events that my friends and I were just happy to have seen people like Sting, Lex Luger, Sabu and…erm…Nate Webb in person without having to spend thousands of pounds on travel and accommodation.
Looking back at the event now it’s obvious that the WWA put on a bad show with an insulting main event. The decent moments were so few and far between they were quickly overshadowed by the sheer amount of garbage that surrounded them.
The problems that drove WCW and ECW out of business 18 months earlier (overspending on talent that were either over the hill, disinterested or not good enough) had somehow carried over to the WWA.
The company promoted its final event a few months later when its major titles were unified with their TNA alternatives. A fitting end for a promotion that tried to capitalise on the void left by far bigger and better companies that had themselves been taken over by the WWE.
In my next article I’ll be looking back at the final event run by notorious British Promotion 1PW.