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Guerrilla Reviewfare: PWG It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)

August 10, 2022 | Posted by Jake St-Pierre
PWG It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll) Image Credit: PWG
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Guerrilla Reviewfare: PWG It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)  

PWG’s post-hiatus output has bore some pretty tasty fruit. And that’s not just because JD Drake is such a hunk. Both of their comeback shows, Mystery Vortex 7 and Threemendous VI were consistently good wrestling events, buoyed by memorable affairs such as Jonathan Gresham vs. Lee Moriarty, Davey Richards’ return to his SoCal stomping grounds, and even a vintage Super Dragon cameo that somehow ended up less notable than his first two. But as for cards on paper, their third 2021 outing might be the most exciting. Daniel Garcia’s debut against Jonathan Gresham has been given quite the reputation. Lio Rush’s return is long-awaited for me personally, as I thought his brief 2017 run was one of that year’s highlights. Heck, I’m even excited for the Bandido vs. Shelley despite it being one of those matches you never thought about as a thing until it was announced. So we’re really heading guns ablazing into the end of PWG’s brief 2021.

We are TAPED from the Globe Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.

Your host is Excalibur. Also in not-notable news is the debut of a BLACK RING CANVAS~!

Aramis vs. Jack Cartwheel
As one of the shorter matches I can recall on a non-BOLA PWG card, this still had a few nagging issues. I don’t like saying that, because I really did enjoy a majority of this contest, but sometimes when you’re in the air you just don’t stick the landing. I like both guys, especially Jack Cartwheel, as I think he has such a unique grace to everything he does. He’s a high flyer that does not scream “generic” to me, which in 2022 is something my jaded fandom continues to cope with. That gymnast twist he has to his offense is never not impressive, as you get the sense that he’s the next evolution of someone like Matt Cross who also put their gymnastics background to good use in the squared circle. Or Bryan Alvarez if you wanna be a little ironic.

Unfortunately though, Mr. Cartwheel didn’t have a great night in terms of execution. As it pertains to his actual flips and flops, he was tremendous as always, but a few goofed-up spots near the end did a good bit to tank the momentum of the match. The botched springboard still fed well into the finish, but it didn’t put a cap on the preceding 7 minutes of mania that built to it. I like Aramis, don’t get me wrong, but he felt like the base for 90% of the match and generally blended into the background. That’s generally okay, but that inherently puts the focus of the match on Jack more than usual. I may throw hissy fits about Thunder Rosa, but I can’t do that to Jack, ya know? He’s still pretty green when you realize he’s only been wrestling on this sort of stage for a little while, and the fact that he’s still so good should be something to take with you when you see him screw up. **1/4

Kevin Blackwood vs. Lee Moriarty
This is one of those matches that’s brought down ever-so-slightly by a shoddy crowd, a very rare critique offered when it comes to PWG events. But purely inside the ring, this was a blast. Kevin Blackwood made a tremendous account of himself, especially as a short-notice replacement that I’d never really seen. He is textbook smooth in the ring, and is one of those guys that does a great job of making his movement count. I’m not put off by guys who want to put some flourishes into their repertoire, but Blackwood’s no-nonsense style reminded me a little bit of a slightly less intense Mark Haskins, someone I similarly enjoy for his uber-smooth, no-frills approach to ‘rasslin.

Blackwood did have a great foil in Lee Moriarty, who is one of the better wrestlers in this “new school” at wrestling from behind. He sells so well, and he has a great habit of keeping himself in the fight. So many heat sequences are just guys getting aimlessly beaten on for minutes on end, and while that could be said about Moriarty’s to a point, he’s always there with a punch, a facial expression, or a short term explosion to keep it interesting. That way, the build to the comeback feels a little more structured so when he finally builds some offense, the fight gets more exciting.

Really, this was just a pair of pros wrestling. They’re polished and both have a keen sense of who they are between the ropes. I think it’s a key difference between guys like Blackwood and say, Jack Cartwheel. Jack is a heck of a talent, but still needs some shoring up on the fundamentals. Kevin Blackwood has the fundamentals down to a tee, and so everything looks airtight. Moriarty seems a little bit more raw, but his talent for quick movement really makes his matches feel intense. He can move around with the quickness, and it plays off a guy like Blackwood (or a Jonathan Gresham a couple shows back) even better because you sense that that’s what his kryptonite is. And it was, because that quickness caught Blackwood offguard just enough to get beaten by a cradle.

So it’s safe to say that both of these men should be PWG regulars from here on out. I think a different crowd could have genuinely given them a special atmosphere, as I get the sense that this match in Reseda would have lit the place up like no one’s business. The Globe appreciated it and was hardly disrespectful so it’s not like we’re talking about a 2003 CZW crowd or anything, but selfishly I do wish that some of that old magic could have made its way into the closing run of this match. It’s nitpicking really, especially since we’re only a year or so off from empty arena wrestling, but that’s wrestling reviewers for ya. For what it’s worth, I’m only complaining about the crowd, so I think we can call that evolution from daring tell Jack Cartwheel that he botched a move or two. ***3/4

Lio Rush vs. Davey Richards
This was the perfect match for its spot on the card, a bout any wrestling show should aspire to find for its events. A lot of people like to make fun of Lio Rush for his “retirements” (jokes that tend to not land for me when you remember the guy’s awful luck with injuries and admitted mental health struggles) but I can’t really take seriously a person who denies his talent between the ropes. His all-too-short stint in AEW was living proof of what a genuine asset Lio Rush can be when everything’s in order, and his return to PWG after 4 years was a yet another reminder.

Davey Richards, also a man with his detractors outside of the ring, has found himself a niche in this more recent run. It used to be, back in the olden days of 2011-2012 when everyone was starting to turn against him, that Davey had self-indulgent, overlong matches everywhere he went. There’s something to that. One of the first real reviews I ever wrote was Final Battle 2011, where he had what can be generously labeled as a masturbatory marathon of concussions against Eddie Edwards. But it’s clear that in his older days, he’s grown wiser to the needs of the show as a whole. This match was succinct, simple, but still wrestled at the gleefully torrid pace that both men are known for. Their opening grappling was surprisingly compelling with an almost Benoit/Angle amateur sequence, evolving into a fun story revolving around Davey’s ankle lock that nearly cost Lio the match before his resourcefulness in strikes won the day.

This wasn’t a showstealer or anything, but it’s the kind of stuff you wish you saw more of in wrestling. A couple talented guys with defined styles battling for ten minutes, not overdoing things but still putting some spirit into it, and bringing it home when the time was right. Davey’s PWG return continues to impress while Lio’s seemingly has just begun, although he will unfortunately be derailed yet again by injury come BOLA. In a vacuum though, I can’t consider this anything but time well spent and I look forward to more of both guys in this PWG environment. Not that we haven’t seen a lot of it already with Davey, but you catch my drift. ***1/2

Demonic Flamita vs. Dragon Lee vs. Rey Horus
Much like the match before it, this was a delightfully compact affair that delivered exactly what was advertised, perfect for where it was on the card. And furthermore, I actually found much more to be impressed with than the usual spot-heavy mayhem. Peoples’ main complaints with three-way matches is that it always feels like it’s a singles match with some guy hanging out on the floor. I don’t hate it as much, but it’s a valid complaint to have. And don’t get me wrong, there was a ton of that here early, but it was a story to be told rather than something blatantly used as a crutch. I’m always a huge fan of when wrestlers can make tropes like that feel natural and useful. Long gone are the days of needing to believe it’s real, but I’m never going to be one to complain when someone wants to close a plothole in the name of a more immersive product.

The opening sequences initially featured Dragon Lee watching while Flamita and Horus duked it out as Lee was making Flamita do his dirty work essentially. Easy, simple. But all three men built upon that with the crux of the story being that Rey Horus was building to a big flying comeback that would finally kick the match in the spotfest we all signed up for. This way, not only were the opening singles exchanges purposeful, but they gave us a reason to see all these wacky dives and three-man spots because of them. It’s little psychological wrinkles like that that make matches more memorable, and while I probably won’t sing its praises to the Gods or anything, I really like being rewarded for investing in stuff like this. The spots themselves weren’t anything to write home about, featuring Spanish Flies and dives and such, but they were crafted expertly as always and were such a fun conclusion to the surprisingly well-thought-out affair. Color me impressed and even a little surprised. ***1/2

Daniel Garcia vs. Jonathan Gresham
There’s a reason that – as of this writing in the year of our Lord 2022 – Daniel Garcia is the PWG World Champion. Very rarely in the decorated history of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla has someone had such an awe-inspiring debut that not only were they half of PWG’s best match in years, but they were skyrocketed to the top of the food chain because of it. I’ve seen so much outstanding wrestling from PWG that it barely even feels real, so my memory might be a little foggy… but even as I go back and research, I’m having a tough time coming up with a wrestler who gave a better first impression than Daniel Garcia. While there have been plenty fabulous debuts (too many to list here, quite honestly) the only one that really sticks out to me is Drake Younger’s match against B-Boy at Threemendous III. And that match ages about as well as Q-Anon branded milk, so it’s hard to be objective about it. The point is, it might have taken 18 years for someone to come into PWG with the grace that Daniel Garcia has. This was magic.

Certainly, Daniel Garcia is not alone in that magic. Jonathan Gresham is one of the best wrestlers in the entire world, regardless of style, promotion, or locale. His PWI ranking will tell you, and he’ll certainly remind of you of it too. There are few wrestlers walking the Earth with his level of fluidity, intelligence, or originality. As his PWG and ROH runs have thoroughly proven, you can put just about any kind of performer in the ring with him and barring booking interference, you will be taken into a dense, story-driven affair with a structure and intensity that are so palpable they almost seem foreign from the other matches on the card. Gresham matches, especially these longform ones, have an atmosphere that you can feel from a computer screen. Believe me, the last thing I am ever going to do is try to take something away from Daniel Garcia here, but Jonathan Gresham is on a level that just about any decent wrestler is going to shine against him on general principle.

Thankfully for anyone lucky enough to see this match, Daniel Garcia is clearly far beyond a decent pro wrestler. He’s sensational, and I’m not just writing that because he beat Bryan Danielson a few days ago as of this writing. Having just turned 23 at the time of this match, it’s borderline offensive how complete a product he already is. His poise when grappling is outstanding, topping everything off with a dramatic and pointed meanness. His facial expressions are legitimately best-in-class, as he has such a fantastic douchebag snarl to everything he does that it carries that aforementioned grappling far beyond its execution. He carries himself with the same kind of confident indignance that is so attractive in guys like Jon Moxley or Bryan Danielson. People talk about how impressive MJF is for his age and don’t worry, I agree with them. But in the ring, I don’t think there’s a better young star on the scene that can challenge Daniel Garcia.

So logic dictates that putting these two men together in a wrestling match would produce something good… but even with reading the lavish praise from live reports, I still wasn’t prepared for what Garcia and Gresham gave me. Where this breaks from Gresham’s usual fare is that it didn’t feel like a grappling match that gave his opponent some hope spots before they succumbed. It was Gresham kicking Garcia’s ass, but Garcia being so determined and tough that he was able to do what so many people could not when Gresham picked up the pace; survive. He was not the grappler Gresham was, but he was arguably tougher. Gresham could not use his regular repertoire to work Red Death over and submit him with relative ease. He had to push himself, improvise, and totally beat Garcia down. You don’t see him genuinely beat the shit out of his opponents, but that was the only way he could keep Garcia down long enough to finish the match. But even so, it wasn’t that Garcia was incompetent. He had a few tricks up his sleeve. And if he wasn’t such a detestable looking guy, he’d have been babyface of the year with his performance fighting from underneath here.

That last point is also something I find commendable about this match. Sometimes you’ll see wrestlers, especially some inexperienced indy guys, who can’t really read the room. Or in their defense, they might not either be the most creative or most confident about who they are inside the ring. They try to work a match that the crowd interprets so completely different from what’s intended that it feels like a mess. And if you look at this match simply reading about the moves they did on paper, you’d think this was a victim of that sort of misfire. Daniel Garcia is probably a total sweetheart in real life, but he looks like a total prick in every wrestling related context you see of him, especially if you’re an AEW viewer. Knowing that, Garcia having this sort of grit and fighting from the bottom makes no real sense, hypothetically.

But somehow, with the borderline virtuosic psychological skill of both he and Gresham, they worked that to their advantage and created an entirely new, intriguing dynamic out of it. When watching the match and seeing how both men emoted and played their roles, you still looked at Garcia as an overly cocky little shit who’s in over his head. He hardly wanted to give Gresham the respect that his acumen deserves. But he’s a damn great wrestler even so, walking with a chip on his shoulder the size of a Mac truck. You don’t sense that he was fighting so hard to get sympathy; he was doing it because he didn’t want to admit that he was the lesser man. Maybe he’s got that one last big lariat in him, even if Gresham was absolutely out-pacing him. And even if he’s an asshole, he’s a competitor. It’s the kind of heel work that makes Bryan Danielson so great in that role; he’s a prick but in a lot of ways, he’s earned that arrogance by being such a smart, gritty athlete. Daniel Garcia gave me very much the same vibe here, and I cannot put into words what a special intangible that is to have.

I guess if I had anything remotely negative to say, it would be another complaint about the crowd. This has been one of the most lacking, lifeless crowds PWG has had in at least a decade. And while I’ll be the first one to bang the drum about how much I miss Reseda, I normally can’t complain too much about the crowds they get at the Globe. And PWG is not to blame for the Reseda building figuratively (and literally) biting the dust. But on this show specifically, I cannot keep that energy. It is genuinely dumbfounding to me how you can see this match happening directly in front of you and not completely lose control of your social etiquette. Sometimes, the vibe just isn’t right, but if there was ever a match to completely retool the vibe check for, this was it. It features one of the best debuts in PWG history and quite frankly, it’s one of the better matches the company’s put on too. I lament the fact that I never saw this in 2021, because I don’t know that this didn’t have a chance at topping my super serious Match of the Year list. But hey, I saw it and you should too. Looking elsewhere would be a mistake. ****1/2

PWG World Tag Titles: Kings of the Black Throne (c) vs. The Workhorsemen (Anthony Henry & JD Drake)
This is a weird match to analyze. To start with the good, I definitely enjoyed this more than the Kings’ title winning affair against Black Taurus and Flamita. Their effort here felt more focused, having a little more of a structure and point to it, thus not leading to the monotonous clash of styles that plagued Threemendous VI’s match. JD Drake, as a general rule, is an entertaining guy against people he can have these sorts of slugfests with so that was also a pleasing dynamic to watch unfold. Heck, his match with Brody King at Mystery Vortex 7 is ample proof of that. And while Anthony Henry has always struck me as a copy-and-paste indy wrestler with a pretty face and tattoos, in the ring he’s still quite smooth and hardly looked out of place. But maybe that’s because the match itself was so unspectacular and devoid of excitement that he looked colorful in comparison.

Despite some favorable comparisons to the Taurus/Flamita match, this match still lacked anything to separate it from a tag match you’d see on AEW Dark. That’s so puzzling to me for so many reasons, because at least three of these wrestlers have a clearly recognizable style. When you watch them in singles matches, “generic” is normally not an adjective that crosses your mind. But that’s the exact word that comes to me every time I try to sum this up. It felt like four guys, capable of something great, going through the motions without really putting any thought into what they were going to do. It was competent and even decent at times, as you can’t fault the mechanics or execution of any of the four, but when it’s just the motions, you can’t be surprised when they hit their heads on the ceiling. It’s unfortunate, because Kings of the Black Throne are a moneymaking outfit on paper. But wrestling isn’t always on paper, and that’s a second nondescript co-main event for this pair of otherwise special pro wrestlers. **1/2

PWG World Title: Bandido (c) vs. Alex Shelley
Here in the hallowed halls of the cleverly-named Guerrilla Reviewfare, we value honesty. So in the interest of being completely blunt with you, this was 26 minutes of complete and total nothingness. There was not a single moment of true excitement conveyed and as the insufferably bland minutes wore on, I felt like I’d been transported to a TNA house show from when everyone knew the company was doomed and the only news you’d read out of it was how few people showed up. It was that devoid of substance. So with those being my first three sentences to describe the match, it’s kind of obvious that I’d classify it as a huge disappointment.

It’s one of those disappointments that stings a little more, because I think we all know the sort of talent these two men possess. Bandido is one of the most exciting wrestlers on the scene, with some absolutely scintillating highlights during his PWG run especially. He works superbly as a fiery babyface, supplemented with an explosiveness that can turn a match on its head in a millisecond. It was clear halfway into this match that Bandido left that version of himself in the locker room and instead decided to coast on the agonizing and tedious “heel” performance of Alex Shelley.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Alex Shelley too. But whatever technical magic he brought to the Gresham match last show, he buried twenty feet into the Earth before flying into LA the day before. Against Bandido, he wrestled such a startlingly directionless match that I genuinely found myself forgetting I was watching a wrestling contest. It seemed as though he decided to find his heat by posturing to the crowd and slowly working Bandido over, which is an impulse I understand. But that impulse is only valid when you have a payoff to the slow pacing, and I feel like they made me pay them in precious minutes of my wrestling-watching life. He’d grab a hold and just do it so he could waste a minute or two, do some pelvic thrusting, and do silly faces to the crowd. Not once did it feel like Bandido was in the grasp of a technical master. There was no point where anything resembling intensity or urgency even hinted at forming. It felt like he was just sitting in that hold until the cue hit to go home, and their go-home stretch was the most wet fart conclusion to a 26 minute match I’ve seen since the last Randy Orton main event I saw.

By no means can I question the talent of Bandido or Alex Shelley. They both have such sustained success in wrestling with outstanding resumes, with Shelley being one of the unspoken legends of indy wrestling in the 2000s to boot. They both cannot be classified as anything but great talents. But be it a lack of chemistry, injury, or just an off-night, these two wrestled one of the most dull, bland, and painfully long main events I’ve seen PWG promote. I’d still call the WALTER vs. Sammy Guevara match worse, but the fact that that’s the piece of business I can compare it to is evidence that misery loves company. A swing and a pretty significant miss, I’m afraid. *3/4

The final score: review Good
The 411
Before the last two matches, I was thumbing through my mental thesaurus to come up with superlatives to describe this show. I was probably going to whine about the lackadaisical crowd with some of them, but the rest of them were going to be glowing words of praise for this show. And then the Wrestling Gods thought that I'd simply invested too much positive energy and told me to hold my horses. Still, that's far from me telling you that this show isn't a worthwhile purchase. Heroes of Wrestling would be a thumbs up if it had Gresham vs. Garcia on it, so when the rest of the undercard is filled with genuinely interesting wrestling of many different styles, it's an easy recommendation. It's just that when a main event under-delivers to the level that Bandido and Shelley did, you inherently feel a little less positive about the show than you really should... kind of like those old WCW shows where the main events would be Hogan doing backrakes for 30 minutes after Rey Mysterio did a 920 dive onto someone an hour before. It's a great show in a lot of ways, but I'd advise turning it off after Gresham vs. Garcia for the full "great show" effect. The last two matches are a big disconnect in that regard.

article topics :

PWG, Jake St-Pierre