Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s annual Battle of Los Angeles is the main event show fans await all year long. Part WrestleMania, part World Cup — every year PWG’s single elimination, three-day tournament is not only the biggest show of the year, but often host to some of the year’s best matches and most eclectic lineups a fan could possibly see.
BOLA 2018 doubled-down on the latter, with PWG bringing in an array of talent this year that had even veteran fans surprised. But with so much top indie talent being signed to the major organizations in recent years, it has forced PWG to search far and wide for talent to fill those voids.
So while BOLA 2018 may have been lacking name value in the mainstream sense, fans privy to wrestling on a global level understood this year’s lineup was arguably among, if not the best in PWG history.
And Night 1 hammered that sentiment in more so than anyone could have expected. Some calling it an all-time great BOLA show, and many considering it the best Night 1 BOLA show ever.
For the first time in a decade, BOLA was hosted outside Reseda in the promotion’s seemingly new home of The Globe Theater in Downtown Los Angeles. Giving the prestigious tournament a whole new aesthetic makeover like it has never seen before. Also marking, perhaps, the first BOLA event where fans are not drenched in sweat from beginning to end.
As per usual, fans began arriving as early as 6:00 AM, sprinkling in throughout the day to set their spot in line or simply socialize with fellow fans who had travelled anywhere from local to different states to entirely different countries to attend of the biggest independent wrestling events of the year.
Doors started opening just after 6:30 PM and Excalibur made his way out to introduce the show right on schedule at 8:00 PM.
Rey Horus vs. Adam Brooks
This was exactly as you would expect it to be if you imagined these two having a match. Horus as the luchador whose style and technique has consistently sharpened since he made his debut at last year’s BOLA, and Brooks as the Australian who took the offense of a Jeff Hardy and the in-ring antics of a Chris Jericho and made it all his own.
Neither guy had the work the other guy’s match, as their styles meshed together effortlessly.
Starting at Bask in his Glory, Brooks has become a heel in the promotion, and Horus the perennial babyface — the dynamic was established very early on. Outside of both men’s hard-hitting, high-flying offense, it was Horus trying to work around the dirty tactics of Brooks.
In the past, PWG has been host to some blow-away openers, as well as some stinkers, and this was right in the middle. However, the last couple minutes saw an awesome closing stretch with Horus defeating Brooks via Avalanche Wheelbarrow Victory Roll in what could be considered an upset after it seemed like the promotion was going to give Brooks a solid push after being the man booked to defeat Keith Lee in his final PWG match.
Flamita vs. Puma King
Flamita made his PWG debut at last year’s BOLA, and while he has not been a regular since then like Rey Horus, PWG fans knew who they were dealing with. Puma King, on the other hand, was among the competitors this year who came out of nowhere. To most fans, he was an unknown. A luchador who had spent the last decade in CMLL and recently severed those ties.
Boy did he make an impression, though. And in such a fashion that intrigue was sparked before match introductions were even made. Fully immersed in his character, he had a natural charisma. He laid on the ropes similar to the way a cat would lay on a wall or hang off a couch. He had won a significant amount of fans before the bell even rang with his eccentric charm. And those fans who weren’t yet convinced — well, it did not take long.
Flamita and Puma put on an absolute clinic of lucha libre. It seems to happen quite often when PWG pits two luchadors against each other, and these two put on a match as good as any pairing that preceded them. As usual in these luchador vs. luchador matches, the sheer amount of moves done was far more than any normal person could keep track of. The action was nonstop and performed with finesse.
Flamita defeated Puma after hitting a Phoenix Splash.
By the end of the night, the majority of fans considered Puma to easily be the breakout star of BOLA Night 1. And it makes you wonder if the result would have been the same if PWG knew how over Puma was going to get with the fans in a single match.
CIMA vs. Jody Fleisch
This match-up had a veteran-like star power attached to it. Fleisch was a significant part of the English independent scene in the early 2000’s, and made his fair impact on the U.S. scene as well. Whereas CIMA is not only one of the names most synonymous with Dragon Gate since its founding over a decade ago, but CIMA was also a two-time BOLA finalist and a former winner back in 2007.
The match, while still turning into a quality match by the end, was widely seen as underwhelming, considering the name value attached to it. The first third of the match was almost entirely a comedic skit of character play between the two as they established sportsmanship and tested each other’s babyface standing.
Once the match finally got going, though, they were off. Despite CIMA being 40 and Fleisch only two years behind, both men can still go.
At one point, Fleisch landed a top-rope, springboard moonsault to the outside on CIMA. Later, the action spilled out deep into the crowd near the entrance. CIMA Irish whipped Fleisch to the wall, which Fleisch ran up and turned into a tornado DDT on the floor.
It was CIMA who gained the upper hand when the action got back to the ring and eventually landed his signature finisher, the Meteroa, to get the win.
Bandido vs. T-Hawk
If you’ve followed Bandido’s PWG career thus far, no one will be surprised to find out this was another incredible match to his name. Bandido is a made-man in PWG — much like Puma King, getting over big with fans on his first night in. And ever since it has been one fantastic match after another.
T-Hawk was making his PWG debut, coming in along with the other “Dragon Gate” guys, CIMA and Shingo Takagi, and certainly the least known of the trio.
The match started slower than Bandido’s usual match as the pair settled in and felt each other out. For those who weren’t familiar with T-Hawk, what they learned really quick was he chops hard. Bandido chops hard himself, but it’s a different kind. When Bandido chops, the sound of the smack is loud. But T-Hawk chops are the worst kind. They thud like you’re being hit by a solid metal pole. And when Bandido’s chest started turned black and purple midway through the match, it looked like he had been hit by exactly that.
T-Hawk carries himself in a stoic manner, but your author is uncertain whether he is typically a heel or babyface. Here, though, he was forced into the heel position as Bandido is so beloved by PWG fans — and to his credit, he played it up perfectly as the silent, imposing heel.
The match built from its slow beginnings to a total barnburner by the end. Bandido defeated T-Hawk with his signature somersault fall-away slam from the top rope. And while fans were elated by Bandido’s victory, the fans also gave much praise to T-Hawk which included a large “please come back” chant.
Joey Janela vs. David Starr
Joey Janela made his debut at BOLA last year as a replacement for TK Cooper. He got over huge that night and has been a regular ever since.
Starr, on the other hand, has struggled to gain the love of PWG fans. Aside from one quality match with Matt Riddle, where it was largely Riddle getting the praise for that, Starr’s matches have been underwhelming. Some fans had already given up, and many more were ready to be done with Starr if he could not deliver at BOLA against Janela.
Not only did he have an opponent who is practically willing to kill himself in order to have a good match, but him and Janela have a rivalry spanning back many great matches in other promotions.
It would be pretty safe to say, nobody left that match feeling underwhelmed. Janela and Starr gave each other a beating. The strikes were stiff, the dives were violent, and the action was a proverbial pressure cooker building to an explosion.
The match could have been rightfully over on multiple occasions — the near-falls had the crowd nearly unhinged. And the two of them went tit for tat the entire way through, leaving the victor in a constant state of uncertainty. Until the end, Janela capped off a blistering sequence of offense with a massive superkick that got him the pinfall.
Brody King vs. Pierre Carl Ouellet (PCO)
This was the story of two parallel stories on opposite sides of the spectrum. Brody finds himself in his breakout year as an independent wrestler, only three years into his career. Whereas PCO finds himself experiencing a career revitalization with a breakout year as an independent wrestler after a long career already 30 years in.
Two beefy guys who can take a beating just as well as they can dish it out. And boy did they both deliver on those ends.
It was ugly, and it was brutal. It should go without saying, the chops were vicious and plentiful from both parties.
The issue with the match, though, was it left fans feeling genuinely nervous and scared for the two performers, thus, taking them out of the action. The combination of Brody’s relative inexperience in the business and PCO’s natural limits due to age produced a match that got sloppy at several points and led to botches of varying degrees of danger. At one point, with Brody laying on the apron, his upper body outside of the ropes and the rest in, PCO climbed to the top rope and attempted a moonsault to the apron. Though he wasn’t successful, thankfully he landed stomach-first on the ropes, as the spot could have gone tragically wrong in many other cases.
Brody got the pinfall victory after landing the Gonzo Bomb on PCO. Regardless of the issues with the match, the fans adored PCO and he got a huge ovation afterwards with big “please come back” chants.
Ringkampf (Walter &Timothy Thatcher) vs. Ilja Dragunov & Shingo Takagi
There only one word could be used to describe this match, several could do the job.
To say these four men beat the hell out of each other would be an understatement. It was all-out warfare.
Takagi, one of the faces of Dragon Gate, was making his first PWG appearance since 2009 after recently parting with his home promotion and tearing it up in AJPW’s Champions Carnival tournament earlier this year.
And Dragunov was making his PWG debut, having spent the entirety of his career on the other side of the Atlantic up to this point, where he has developed a cult following over the years for his work in wXw.
To watch Dragunov on recording is one thing. To see the man live is a whole different experience like few wrestlers achieve. The pure intensity he brings to the ring and fills the room with is something your author has never seen before in another wrestler. It may be a cliché expression, but after seeing Dragunov perform live, it would be hard to justifiably say another wrestler “puts their all” into a match in the same way.
The layers of the match were fascinating to watch, and clearly in the hands of true professionals to pull it off so well. Because both teams actually find themselves facing their partner on Night 2 of BOLA in order to advance. But you also had the long-time rivalry of Walter vs. Dragunov being played off of in the match, as well as Takagi throwing his hat in the ring and creating a lot of tension with both Walter and Thatcher that could become rivalries in the future.
On action, pace, and match progression alone, this was incredible. But then you throw in all the extra elements involved — all the little details — it took it to that next level.
A scorching debut for Dragunov. A phenomenal return for Takagi. And fantastic work by Ringkampf as usual.
In the end, Thatcher had Dragunov wrapped in the Fujiwara armbar and transitioned it into a pin to gain the victory.
Post-match, Dragunov and Takagi had an especially intense staredown and exchange of words, and Walter and Thatcher too shared a word exchange a moment of respect, but warning, for tomorrow as both teams get ready to fight their partners now.