Jack Reviews CZW Best of the Best 16
POP QUIZ: which often belittled wrestling promotion ended up putting together, on paper, the single best card for Wrestlemania weekend of them all? Unless you clicked on this review by accident without reading its title, you can probably guess what the answer is. CZW’s Best of the Best tournament looked jawdroppingly good, with an absolutely stacked and hugely varied field of entrants, and by way of non tournament matches, how about Penta El Zero M vs. Matt Tremont? I cannot wait for this one. Let’s get to it!
Before the show begins, Maxwell Jacob Feinstein appears on the video screens to claim from a sun lounger that he is the Best of the Best, and does not need to participate in the tournament to prove it. Once that’s done, CZW owner DJ Hyde welcomes all the tournament competitors in the ring for the customary tournament photo.
1- Best of the Best Quarter Final- Shane Strickland vs. Dezmond Xavier vs. Lio Rush vs. Joey Janela
One fall to a finish. Lio Rush is a very different personality in CZW than elsewhere; he seems to be doing a storyline where he broke up with his girlfriend Dasha, but they still come to the ring together and they wear all black and look very creepy and depressed. It’s kinda cool to see someone so young trying something so different. I hope it doesn’t affect his exuberant in ring style though. Also, see what I mean about the strength of this field?! Really, any of them would be a terrific choice as winner, and it’s just one quarter final.
This is a hell of a start to the tournament. There’s tons of energy from the get go, and down the stretch some of the spots get properly mental. Predictably, Joey Janela’s responsible for a lot of them, including a dive into the crowd to wipe out the rest of the field. Lio Rush does not let his downbeat character temper his in ring style, as he demonstrates with back to back Heat Seeking Missiles! It’s just a crazy spotfest on the whole, and in fact, my one concern with this tournament is that all of the four ways will have this structure and get a bit samey. They’re going to struggle to top this one, as well. Dezmond Xavier as always looks a phenomenally talented athlete, and I was hoping he would go deep into this tournament, but instead he ends up eating the defeat, spiked by the Space Jam by Strickland for the win! *** 3/4.
2- Best of the Best Quarter Final- Ricochet vs. David Starr vs. A.R. Fox vs. Jason Cade
This is indeed more or less the same as the previous match, but moves along briskly enough that it doesn’t feel irritating. It’s perhaps a little more restrained than the previous one, but, y’know, Ricochet, A.R. Fox and Jason Cade are in, so you know there’s plenty of cool dives and flips to enjoy. The one real distinguishing feature of this match compared to the last one is that there’s gratuitous violence towards women, which I think is a bad thing- both Veda Scott and a woman I don’t recognise who accompanies AR Fox to the ring (I think it might be his wife) get wiped out to uncomfortably enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. Brief creepy spots like that don’t really detract from the full match but they’re worth pointing out. Ultimately Fox drops Jason Cade with a High Angle DDT to advance! *** 1/4.
3- Best of the Best Quarter Final- Michael Elgin vs. Anthony Henry vs. Scorpio Sky vs. Zachary Wentz
Another good four way! I’m surprised by how all of these are breezing by, because as I’d feared they all follow the same formula. Guys zip in and out of the ring and hit big moves on each other for ten minutes or so. It just seems to be working though, and in fairness this one was less about crazy dives and more about Elgin throwing dudes around the ring. There was still lots of flying from the other three (Zachary Wentz, by the way, seems really promising and extremely underrated to me), but the bout was tied together by Elgin just mauling people. Because the pace of the match was so fast it didn’t really distinguish things too much from the previous matches, but Big Mike in full flow is great fun to watch anyhow. His dominance was such that it actually would have felt a bit silly if anyone else had won, so happily he picked up the victory, dropping Anthony Henry with the Elgin Bomb for the win! *** 1/4.
4- Best of the Best Quarter Final- Fenix vs. Sami Callihan vs. Jake Crist vs. Dave Crist
Goodness, I know I’ve said it before, but what a phenomenally consistent field of entrants this tournament has had. Not one weak link in any of the quarter finals.
OK, so these four ways are now getting a bit repetitive, but since this was the final one that didn’t matter too much. It’s hard to think of interesting ways to tell the same story four times; everyone charges around beating the heck out of each other, and it’s very exciting but a little one note. This one is probably stronger than the last two matches; it’s a bit quicker, a bit more intense. Just very good action on the whole. Over in AAW, Callihan and the Crists have been feuding with Fenix and generally making his life miserable, and while obviously CZW has different canon I’m surprised they didn’t fall back on that story anyhow, it still would have made sense and would have helped the flow of the match feel a bit different to the others, turning it into a loose 3 on 1 handicap match. No harm done though. Crist polishes off Calihan with his springboard ace crusher, which also happens to be the most gorgeous gosh darn move in the whole of pro wrestling. *** 1/2.
5- CZW World Heavyweight Championship- Joe Gacy vs. Brian Cage
This is another very good effort on a show that kind of needs a come down match. They just threw bombs at each other from start to finish and that’s always a recipe for a good time. Cage’s stamina is so impressive, he really comes off like a completely relentless machine of a man. Joe Gacy kept up with him well here, and it was cool to see two powerhouses slugging it out. The pace of this match was, at times, as quick as some of the four ways, which is my only reservation about this; it’s been such a blistering first hour of a show and on a weekend where they’ve already watched so much wrestling, the crowd seemed quite worn out for this one. I don’t blame them, because the show’s sort of just hurtled by at one, unchanging speed- a couple of guys need to bite the bullet and agree to do a simple ** 3/4 match, just to cleanse the pallet a bit. Gacy is able to eke out the victory by countering a wheelbarrow into a roll-up for the three to end an impressive, valiant battle. *** 1/2.
New CZW Wired Champion Johnny Yuma joins us via video link to express his displeasure at not being booked for this show.
6- Ultimate Opportunity Scramble- Rickey Shane Page vs. Tony Deppen vs. Ethan Case vs. Ace Austin vs. Flip Gordon vs. Caleb Konley vs. Alexander James vs. Mascarita Dorada
The winner of this match will get a special coin. But apparently that’s not enough of an incentive! So, this coin will earn them the right to book themselves in any match with any stipulation they’d like. In addition, MASCARITA DORADA! Such a treat to get to see him in some semi serious matches this weekend.
A scramble is not exactly what this show ordered since we’ve already basically had four, and none of the guys in this match are as good as the guys in the Best of the Best tournament. With the possible exception, of course, of Mascarita Dorada, who genuinely is world class. He is so crisp, so smooth, and he gets so much snap in his moves that they actually look convincing against guys twice his size, even when he’s taking them over with flying headscissors and what have you. The only time it doesn’t work is when he dives onto the floor and wipes out a bunch of guys… really, they should between them be able to catch him. Flip Gordon provides another stand out spot when he’s able to land a superkick while standing on the top rope. The balance required to do that! My word. Rickey Shane Page is a big dude and it’s coooool to see him down half the field with a swanton to the floor! He ends up picking up the win and the coin with a chokeslam backbreaker on Tony Deppen! More good wrestling with surprisingly few sloppy moments, considering the vastly differing levels of experience in the match. *** 1/4.
7- Best of the Best Semi Final- Michael Elgin vs. Dave Crist
Having spent much of the show criticising very good matches for being very good in too similar a way, for my next trick I will praise a not so good match for being the exact opposite. This was that come down match I said the show needed earlier. It felt completely different from the others on the show, with an extended brawl through the crowd and a more methodical pace when it was in the ring. It wasn’t particularly compelling viewing, but it got the job done, and leaves the viewer a bit more refreshed for the other semi final, which should be crazy. Elgin was obviously the favourite coming in, but Crist is able to sneak the victory by countering an Elgin Bomb into a jackknife roll-up for the three count! ** 3/4.
8- Best of the Best Semi Final- Shane Strickland vs. A.R. Fox
This was disappointing. You hear that these two will be wrestling and you except something really wild, especially since Elgin and Crist had just cleared the ground for them to do that. Instead, this was just as slow and methodical as the other semi final, with Fox dominating a lot of the match and doing so at half speed. It felt very odd. Of course, there was still a lot of flipping and flying, but it loses something when it’s performed at such a cautious pace. I suppose with one man advancing to the final they were trying to conserve energy, but it really came at a cost to what on paper would have been one of the most exciting matches of the weekend. Strickland gets the win after putting down Fox with the Swerve Stomp. ** 3/4.
9- Anything Goes- Penta El Zero M vs. Matt Tremont
HELL OF A MATCH HERE! Death matches are not everyone’s cup of tea (there would be no point to them if they were), but that worked in CZW’s favour here. No one else on Wrestlemania weekend had attempted one, and this felt so fresh and thrilling! It didn’t go too far into utter depravity either, so as far as death matches go, this was reasonably accessible. There were a veritable fuckton of light tubes though, including one spot where both guys just stood and obliterated them on each other’s foreheads, so yeah, if that offends your sensibilities you should probably disregard the high star rating I’m giving this. Of all the companies who ran on Wrestlemania weekend, CZW got the most by far out of Penta El Zero M. He’s had some good matches across the last few days but in all of them it felt a bit like he was playing a basic Pentagon, doing enough to satisfy the crowd, but little more. He couldn’t be excused of half arsing it, but neither was he, like, giving an arse and a half, to stretch the metaphor beyond breaking point. Here though he threw himself into the violence with great gusto, gave and took a ton of punishment, and gelled tremendously with Matt Tremont. They actually put a really smart match together (I mean, death matches are inherently stupid and that is what makes them fun, but smart by death match standards), starting out with more basic weapons and teasing the light tube usage, so that when they eventually started getting exploded the brutality felt rewarding. The finishing stretch, fought out in a ring covered in shards of glass, felt legitimately insane. It all just escalated perfectly. Kevin Sullivan served as special guest referee, which seemed a good idea on paper. Unfortunately, in person he seemed deeply uncomfortable with the level of violence and wouldn’t count pinfalls after a light tube had been used because he didn’t want to cut his hand on the glass. And, I mean, fair enough. He disappeared to brawl with Tremont’s ally Stockade at the end though, and another referee handled the finish. Tremont dropped Penta with a Death Valley Driver onto a chair surrounded with glass shards, and picked up a fantastic victory! **** 1/4.
Post match, a video plays announcing that Atsushi Onita (!!!!!!) will be fighting Matt Tremont for CZW in August! Huuuuuuge!
Best of the Best Final- Shane Strickland vs. Dave Crist
This was a disappointing conclusion to the tournament. I feel like they’d have been better served doing a frenzied sprint, since they only went 15 minutes, but instead the match drifted by at a glacial pace. Maybe they were trying to build tension, or fell into the trap of thinking that epic matches always require a slow, methodical build up, but whatever the plan was it didn’t work. The whole tournament has felt somewhat anticlimactic, with four strong but repetitive four ways followed by two forgettable semi finals. Neither Strickland nor Crist had gone on much of an arduous journey to get to the final, but they wrestled the match as if they had. They used weapons, but with none of the danger and intensity of Penta and Tremont. There was even the mandatory ref bump, the staple of any melodramatic early 00s main event. None of it convinced. Bah. Of course, the action was technically fine throughout, and the finish, in fairness, was super cool, with Crist nailing his stunning Springboard Ace Crusher while Strickland was seated on the shoulders of Crist’s manager JT Davidson. The height he got on it! I love that move. It was the best part of a flat finale. * 1/2.