There’s a narrative, not one I subscribe to I should point out from the start, that the WWE tying down a number of UK grapplers to exclusive (or semi-exclusive) contracts is the first step to the UK indies being killed.
My arguments against that can be saved for another time; needless to say for now there is a TON of super-talented UK guys and girls not under contract to the WWE and there’s more than enough promotions with a following and a fan base to keep the scene alive.
One case in point is Wigan based Grand Pro Wrestling, who have just celebrated their fifteenth anniversary. And it’s fair to say that the UK “indie scene” looked a lot less healthy when they started than it does now.
Friday 30th November saw their last show of their 15th Anniversary year, the Crazy Cruiser8. The tournament has been held sporadically over the years, with names such as El Ligero, Joey Hayes and CJ Banks having been winners whilst other names like Jack Gallagher and Zack Gibson have taken part.
This year a line up of 7 men and 1 woman would battle it out to become the 2018 Cruise8 champion. With a queue stretching around the block (it’s Brit Wrest – doors never open quite on time) before hand it was clear that this was a hot ticket and the reception for the eight competitors as they made their way to the ring for the pre-tournament photo pose made it clear that this was a night people were looking forward to.
The show started off with the Quarter Finals, the first of which pitted Isiah Quinn, accompanied by two his House of Isiah( Nate Travis & Nick Maguire), against the sole female in the tournament, Lana Austin. Isiah’s pre match quip that “they say a woman’s work is never done, that’s probably why they get paid less than men” was hardly new but it raised a laugh before the two got down to a spirited opener which seemed likely to go to Quinn, if only because the numbers game at ringside was heavily in his favour. Thankfully, for me as a fan of Lana at least, a surprise appearance from Matthew “Operamania” Brooks and his usual top notch singing (this time a version of “I Want To Break Free) was enough to distract Quinn and for Lana to get the win via a roll up.
One of the great things about the Indie scene is that no matter how hated someone is in the majority of promotions, you will always find somewhere where that guy is a babyface. As one of the most hated men on many a card, GPW is one place where CJ Banks get cheers. Even here, when up against plucky underdog Jack Griffiths (a new name to me). This followed the veteran vs newcomer formula, but there’s a reason that such formula’s exist; when done properly they work. Whilst this was a little scrappy in places, the storyline carried it and the respect shown by the winner Banks to his defeated opponents afterwards did not seem out of place.
The match between LA Austin and Jet Fashion never really got going, mainly due to the fact that Jet’s former tag team partner from the Midnight Bin Collection Ste Mann showed up through the crowd with a, well, metal bin and after taking a ringside seat to watch the action then joined in by smashing Jet over the head with it twice, in shots that certainly weren’t held back. Presumably by virtue of the fact that he’d pushed LA slightly before this though, the referee awarded the match to Austin by DQ. Although it was perhaps a slight disappointment as a match, it was a good angle that furthered the on-going storyline.
We finished the first half of the show with Soner Durson (in the reverse of Banks, a man I am used to cheering but who was the heel here) squaring off with Sandy Beach, who was accompanied by his inflatable pet shark Sharky. After some amusing back and forth in the early going, as Durson drank his small cup of Turkish char before Sharky attacked and threw it in his face, the two had a great battle, chock full of big high-impact moves before Beach secured his semi final place in a mild upset.
After a pint in the interval we were back with the semi-finals. The first of which saw a brother Vs sister affair as LA and Lana Austin battled. Fans were torn over who to support so just settled back and supported both. It was a short but fun match, packed with great reversals and counters and in the end it was Lana who advanced by the skin of her teeth when she rolled her shoulder up during a double pin at the last second to grab the win. The two embraced at the end to a nice reception from the crowd. But who would meet Lana in the final? That was decided in the second semi between CJ Banks and Sandy Beach. Again the wonderful world of Brit Wrestling saw noted grump and hard man heel Banks get cheered here for shaking hands with an inflatable shark. This was a well paced and dramatic encounter which had fans on the edge of their seats, and on more than one occasion thinking that the match was over only for the kick out to come just before the ref’s hand slapped the mat for the third time. In the end it was Beach who advanced from a hard fought match.
A break from the tournament action came with a riotous 10 man tag team match which pitted Big Joe, The Bad Lads, Kameron Solis and Chase Alexander against The Young Guns (Ethan Allen and Luke Jacobs), Rio, Simon Valour and Johnnie Branigan. A good number of these names will be familiar to those locals who also watch the likes of Futureshock, This Is Wrestling and Fighting Spirit, but within a few moments of the entrances even someone who had never seen any of these guys before would have known the characters. This was a perfect example of what matches of this kind could do, with a number of face-to-face interactions getting the crowd into it before it inevitably descended into chaos as all ten men battled in and out of the ring and we saw numerous dives out of the ring that saw me ducking for cover on more than one occasion. The babyfaces won a match that may have been short on psychology and transitions, but was certainly a whole heap of fun!
And then it was time for the main event and the final of the Crazy Cruiser8 tournament pitting Sandy Beach against Lana Austin. It’s not hyperbole to say that this was one of the best matches I have seen live all year. From the opening moments where Sandy tried to say that the two didn’t need to wrestle, to the chaotic club wide brawl that toured the ringside and bar area and then back into the ring for a series of bone-crunching high spots and dramatic near falls…this was superb. With vocal support for both grapplers the crowd was white hot throughout but there could only be one winner, and after a fantastic series of big moves in the closing sections of the match that person was Sandy Beach.
The locker room emptied to come out and congratulate both the winner and the loser (although after a titanic effort, Lana Austin was by no means a “loser”) and a great night of action was ended on a very high note indeed.
Grand Pro Wrestling are 15 years old and going from strength to strength. If the British Indies scene is “dying”, no one has told these guys!