MIKE JOHNSON TAKES A LONG LOOK AT COMBAT ZONE WRESTLING AND THEIR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY SHOW
SHOWCASE OF THE ULTRAVIOLENT
Combat Zone Wrestling returned to the ECW Arena in Philadelphia, PA on Saturday 2/7, drawing an estimated 700 fans for their Fifth Anniversary event. The show brought back a lot of memories and CZW performers for what is really their cult fan base.
I have seen many people write about the "cult-like" fandom of companies like Extreme Championship Wrestling in the past, but the C in CZW may as well stand for Cult as everyone involved in the promotion in some way, shape, or form is a beloved character to their fans, from owner Zandig who was painted last night as the Ultraviolent George Washington, forging a path to righteousness on behalf of fans who want gore everywhere to photographer and website guy "Whacks", a real-life piercer and tattoo artist who got one of the biggest reactions of the night climbing a ladder, not preparing to dive off onto a hapless foe, but to fix the projection unit used to play CZW video features on the wall of the ECW Arena.
It's a veritable lovefest, featuring some of the strangest characters you will ever see outside of a science fiction convention. You have the pierced and tattooed fans who like the alternative version of professional wrestling. You have the teenaged and early 20 "Jackass" fans who want to see insane spots and blood. You have a few holdovers from the ECW days, looking to live again in all their glory of being the cutting edge fans of a cutting edge promotion, and you've got an insanely high percentage of women who are attracted to the young roster. It's a recipe for some of the strangest crowd mixes ever seen, much more odd than the more famous ECW crowds.
CZW is the bastard son of Extreme Championship Wrestling in many ways. Formed in 1999 in Mantua, New Jersey by Zandig, CZW began promoting shows that featured more violence and blood, more glass and thumbtacks, more dives off high peaks and more hellacious bumps than even its more famous cousin, ECW. After several years of running before a few hundred fans, ECW closed. CZW began to get more focus in 2001 when RF Video began filming and distributing videos (that relationship no longer exists) and representatives of the promotion (in my case, wrestler Z-Barr) began contacting websites about coverage.
The shows were wild and off the hook, featuring a cast of characters (Justice Pain, Wifebeater) who did terrible, evil bloody things to each other, (Ric Blade, Nick Mondo, Briscoe Brothers, SATs) who did insane aerial moves that could easily have revolutionized wrestling as easily as AAA did in 1993 with the likes of Rey Misterio Jr. and Psicosis, along with a few ECW names sprinkled in from time to time. One could see where the out and out awesome heart these young stars put into their work at the time could give others lightbulbs popping in their head about what they could do with the same talent in a different platform.
In December of 2001, the promotion made the move to the ECW Arena in Philadelphia, PA and was a hit immediately at the box office for the first show, turning away several hundred fans thanks to months of exposure on WGTW in Philadelphia, PA. In the ensuing months (and really the last two plus years), the promotion has had its share of hits and misses, both in-house and out. They have had booking that sometimes went backwards and usually featured the theme of owner Zandig losing and regaining power from a villanious foe, XPW taking over their home venue, losing and returning talent, a lack of organization at times especially early in their Philadelphia run, the birth and success of sometimes-enemy, sometime-ally Ring of Honor, the apparent loss of their summer events in Dover, Delaware after the local city council banned their more violent matches just weeks after CZW drew 700+ for their Tournament of Death, and most notably the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission stepping in to force an overall toning down of the product's crazier matches, removing glass, light tubes, etc. from the hardcore equation.
At times over the last year, CZW seemed to be weakly limping into oblivion with a few shows that featured just a few scant hundred fans but Zandig (who acknowledged it was a hard year on the ring mic at the promotion's December show) always seems to try his hardest to turn things around. His genuis insanity at Cage of Death 5 was absolutely fun and brilliant, for fans who want to see that style.
In recent months, the crowds have returned to decent levels, with excellent crowds for their annual Cage of Death festivities in December. The promotion has tried to add an interesting mix of new generation performers underneath, either picking from Michigan talent like Alex Shelley and Jimmy Jacobs, New York City performers like Homicide, Dan Maff, and the Grim Reefer, or their own talent base of students including Chris Cash to replace names like the Briscoe Brothers and Justice Pain who have moved on.
That new base was well-needed by the company. Beyond the inevitable shift in talent that comes with any entertainment entity, time is fleeting for the company's stars. As Nick Mondo and Lobo said last night while being the first inductees into the company's Hall of Fame, the style and sheer heart of the performers doing the "Ultraviolent" work creates short careers. Wifebeater has retired and returned once from injuries in his short career and is currently out with back injuries. Nick Mondo spoke last night about how after his insane bumps (including a bump off the roof of a venue through three tables and light tubes into a parking lot this past summer), that he needed to retire partially because he knew he couldn't trust himself to tone down. Lobo, one of the most popular acts in the history of the company, went from looking like the next Mick Foley, to retirement due to knee problems, although he still returns from time to time when needed. Zandig himself always looks haggard from the beatings and has at times admitted on the ring mic that he doesn't know how much longer he can continue doing the insane matches he does. You can't do the crime without the time, and the punishment in the crime of hardcore wrestling is often shortened careers and hurting bodyparts.
Do not mistake this as painting the company as the blame or as a negative. No one forces anyone to get into the ring and whether you like that style or not, it's one that requires huge guts to partake in. It's just the reality of that style. That said, not everything is blood and guts in CZW. It just seems like the Ultraviolent moments are the ones that garner the biggest reactions, oftentimes from those not even in attendance at the show. Beyond the craziness, the promotion has its own feel and style, one that I like to call "Matrix wrestling." Much like the Keanu Reeves film, the focus is on the cool, flashy spots and insane bumps and not the build that gets you there. The storylines are simple to follow, but sometimes the actual booking of the matches makes you scratch your head and go, why in the world would they do that?
The true weakness to me is that there is sometimes and overabundance of interference and run-ins, but the fans that come to the shows are there for the overall experience, they are there to see the craziness, they are there to see the bumps. That's why they come out in droves for the bigger shows. They know that's where the blood and bumps will really shine. For those who love the promotion and come out to every event, they are there to be part of the cult. Last night, the cult celebrated its own success.
CZW ANNIVERSARY SHOW RESULTS AND REFLECTIONS
CZW's Fifth Anniversary show may as well have been held under a black cloud, as the promotion went into the event with two strikes against them and the hottest pitching prospect throwing fastballs at the bottom of the ninth inning.
As documented here on the site, The promotion's franchise team, The Backseat Boyz left the company following a series of events that were sparked by issues between the promotion and The Backeats' Johnny Kashmere.
The hits just kept on coming against the promotion. The Messiah was unable to make the show due to the passing of his sister (our condolences to his family) while Wifebeater blew his back out while working out in the gym. Wifebeater appeared before the crowd but every move was exceptionally painful for him, so he was in rough, rough shape. Alex Shelley, the star in the making from Michigan, broke his collarbone this past week and was forced out of his grudge match with Jimmy Jacobs. New Jack, who was announced as facing Zandig on the last show (although it was never advertised after the fact), was announced as missing his flight.
The bottom line was that whatever booking the promotion put into the show was out the window and they were going to have to start from scratch. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Last night, CZW put on a long, long show that saw high points and low points, Starting at 8:45 (they started late due to the WORLD-1 matinee event at 4 PM) and ending after 1 AM, it was an endurance test for the fans as much as it was for the performers.
Complete results of the show saw:
*Scotty Matthews defeated DJ Hyde, Bounty Hunter and Jon Dahmer in a 4-way elimination match. Hunter was a huge muscular African American with hair similar to Booker T. He is green as he looked really good at times and really off on others. Great look. The match was OK and much better than the mess that Hyde and Dahmer were involved in at the previous show. Hyde pinned Dahmer, but turned into a Bounty Hunter spear and was pinned. Scotty pinned Bounty Hunter after several minutes of back and forth action that was eh. It looked as if both were tired out.
The promotion played an awesome history montage music video. They didn't ignore any of their former regulars, not even Justice Pain, who left the company with considerable heat. CZW champion and owner John Zandig thanked the fans for their support and mentioned that the video was created by a 14 year old fan who was sitting in the front row. Zandig announced the winners of the promotion's Year End awards, voted by fans online.
Best Heel: Messiah
Best Move: The Joker Driver
Tag Team of The Year: The Backseat Boyz
Feud of the Year: Zandig vs. HI-V
Best Wrestler: The Messiah
Best Newcomer: Jimmy Rave
Best Manager: Dewey Donovan
Best Match: CZW Cage of Death 5 in Philadelphia, PA
Zandig invited the locker room to come out, then announced Lobo as the first inductee to the promotion's Hall of Fame. Lobo spoke about his longtime friendship with Zandig and then told the locker room that they had to be dedicated and remember what they were there to do for the fans. The crowd gave Lobo a standing ovation.
They did a quick angle where Zandig told the members of the HI-V that were there that they could either join his side or be screwed. B-Boy joined Zandig's side, seemingly turning babyface while Adam Flash and manager Dewey Donovan didn't, leaving them as heels. With the Backseat Boyz gone at the moment (Zandig even noted that down the line, who knew what was going to happen and pointed out others who left and returned), the only question is which side the Messiah will end up on, which I believe will be remaining a heel.
*The Dirty Rotten Scoundrels defeated the team of Cory Kastle and Judas Young and All Money Is Legal in an elimination match. Kastle and Young came out doing the Backseat Boyz mannerisms and entrance. This was a decent bout with a lot of attempts at doing innovative stuff, some of which works, some which didn't.
*In a Women's match, Mercedes Martinez defeated Sumie Sakai. Rick Feinberg hit the ring to attack Mercedes but Sakai hit him with two weak chairshots. Mercedes took the chair and drilled him with a chair. They then ripped off his clothes to reveal a bra and thong. I didn't need to see that!
*Z-Barr and Nick Berk defeated CZW Tag Team champions Greg Matthews & Rockin' Rebel by DQ. Rebel's Army ripped on the crowd for not giving them any awards, so they are still heels after all. Danny Rose, who joined the Army at the last show, was jumped by Adam Flash. The match degenerated with Rebel killing everyone including ref Rob Hartog with chairs. Hartog said he was going to have a surprise for Rebel next month. Backstage, there was a tiff between Z-Barr and Berk and Rebel but everything settled after some arguing.
*CZW Iron Man champion Jimmy Rave defeated Jimmy Jacobs and the debuting Joey Ryan (California's Pro Wrestling Guerrilla) in a 15 minute Iron Man match. Alex Shelley, who was scheduled to face Jacobs, gave a great promo and explaining that tonight's Iron Man Match was going to be a three way. Shelley announced that his first CZW match back would be against Jacobs and began making a lot of jokes about not being able to use his right arm. The crowd was into Ryan, doing the same chant that California fans do for him. This was OK, but for whatever reason, I am just not sold on Rave yet, so it kind of dragged a little for me. The CZW regulars, however, are into Rave.
*CZW Junior Heavyweight champion Sonjay Dutt defeated The Grimm Reefer. This was a good match and I thought it was Reefer's best career showing to date. Reefer attacked Dutt as he came down the aisle. It was later revealed that Dutt's championship belt was "stolen" with the implication that former champion Ruckus nabbed it. I enjoyed this match a lot. There was a great drive by Dutt over the ropes into the crowd on Reefer.
After intermission, John Zandig announced he had one more Award to give out, which was the "Bump of the Year" Award, Zandig and Nick Mondo going off the roof at the July Tournament of Death 2 in Dover, Delaware. Mondo's theme music played and he came out in street clothes, making his return for the first time since that event in July. The crowd popped huge for Mondo and gave him a standing ovation, the loudest of anything that night at the show. Mondo explained his reasons for retirement and said that he and the boys (who came back out) had a surprise for Zandig, and they played a great tribute video to Zandig. Zandig apparently didn't know it was coming. Zandig then announced Mondo was the second inductee into the promotion's Hall of Fame.
As Mondo left the ring, they ran an angle that most of the live crowd missed because of how quick it happened. Robby Mireno, the ring announcer who was "fired" at Cage of Death, ran into the ring, shoved papers into Zandig's hand and ran back out. Most of the crowd was watching Mondo leaving and greeting ringside fans and didn't see it. There will be a storyline involving a court case over Mireno's departure that will play out on CZW TV in the next few weeks, and this was Zandig being "served when he least expected it."
*Ruckus and Sabian defeated The Joker and Chris Cash in a decent tag match. Sabian has been working on his physique. Joker turned on Cash and helped Ruckis and Sabian beat him down. Sonjay Dutt and Jimmy Jacobs ran out to make the save to set up a six man tag match for the next show. Sonjay said he wanted his belt back and he'd do anything to get it, setting up a 6-man was made for next month with Joker, Ruckus, and Sabian against Chris Cash, Sonjay Dutt and Jimmy Jacobs.
*B-Boy pinned Pro Wrestling Guerrilla's Excalibur in a Xtreme Strong Style Tournament match after hitting a Van Daminator style shining wizard to Excalibur's face with a steel chair. B-Boy looked good here. Excalibur didn't really show me much. He just seemed to be a really thin masked guy.
*The H8 Club, Nick Gage and Nate Hatred, defeated Homicide and Danny Maff when Gage and Homicide's "shoulders" were both down after a belly to back suplex. From my vantage point, however, it looked like Homicide's left shoulder was up, so it may end up being a storyline bad ref call. Homicide laid out Gage after the match when they were showing each other respect. This was OK but nothing near the level of a match it would seem on paper, although Homicide worked the show sick. Dan Maff did a good job. H8 Club were fine.
Zandig came out (again?) And announced that he had brought in two names from CZW's past for a Fans Bring the Weapons Match. He introduced Necro Butcher, who worked for the company over the summer during the IWA Invasion angle. As they filled up the ring with all sorts of weapons, Zandig then introduced Mad Man Pondo, who worked with the company in 2000 and 20001. The fans popped for both guys. Pondo came out with Dewey Donovan, so Zandig told him he was back with the company for 8 hours and already screwing up. Pondo challenged Zandig, but Zandig told him Butcher didn't need any help, so it was a singles match.
The match started with Pondo destroying Butcher with two shots with a stop sign. Pondo opened up a bag of thumbtacks, sprinkled them on the mat and slammed Butcher on them. Butcher ended up being tossed off the top rope to the floor. Pondo hit him in the head with an electric fan ("Oh No, a fan has gotten involved in the action!" someone behind me yelled in one of the lines of the night.) New Jack's music hit and Jack (who was backstage at intermission, so he caught a later flight or was just announced as not there for the surprise factor) with his fork and blade and the bloodletting continued. Pondo was slammed onto a board of plastic forks for the pin by Butcher. Pondo joined Jack in dragging and beating Butcher to a table on the floor of the ECW Arena. New Jack dove off and crashed through the table, pinning Butcher. Pondo returned to the ring where he had words with Dewey Donovan, attacked him and cut off his trademark ponytail (which Donovan has had since at least 1995 when I first met him prior to his getting inside the business) to end the show.
Overall, I wouldn't call this one of the more memorable nights for the promotion in recent memory. They had a lot working against them for sure, but in any event, it wasn't a night where things really clicked. They tried their best, but even the Mighty Casey strikes out from time to time. It was however, a night of memories and celebrations as a cult honored a few of their cult heroes.
CZW returns on Friday 3/5 to Allentown, PA and Saturday 3/6 at the ECW Arena in Philadelphia, PA. For more on the promotion, visit www.CZWWrestling.com.
Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@PWInsider.com. He suggests CZW's Stretched in Smyrna, Un Fn' Believable, Tournament of Death II, Cage of Death 4, and Cage of Death V as great starting points in checking out the promotion. Their videos can be found at SmartMarkVideo.com.