Friday, 14 April 2017

Lets Talk About Banks Baby, Lets Talk About FCP.

Look at the photo above. Look at the face of every single member of the crowd. Look at the desperation on Travis Banks' face. So much emotion. So much energy. This photo captures more than just Travis Banks winning the Fight Club: Pro Championship, this photo manages to capture the thirteenth month journey, that saw a 30 year old from Auckland, New Zealand become Wolverhampton's favourite wrestler. Having seen the story unfold and covering most of it here on ATPW, I wanted to spend some time looking at and writing about that journey and what it meant to be there. Let's Talk About Banks baby...

When The Kiwi Buzzsaw arrived in the Planet Nightclub on 5th February 2016 at All the Best, he was a relative unknown to the majority of the audience, having only made his British wrestling debut in December of the previous year. Having worked for ATTACK, GPW and Infinite and tieing up with names like Mark Andrews, T-Bone and Chris Ridgeway over those two months, Banks had been steadily building up a name for himself elsewhere, but proving yourself inside the FCP cage (RIP the cage), was a whole different kettle of fish. 

After the debut opposite Chris Brookes, I wrote "a return would be welcomed", having witnessed Travis working a very technical outing. Wolverhampton got behind Banks that night, as he came close with a Fisherman's Buster and Bridging German Suplex, but more because of their hatred for the slug pellet that is Chris Brookes, than a particular love or awareness of the New Zealander. Banks' next opponent gave us a chance to see a whole new side of the future champion, as he stepped in with future WWE UK competitor Trent Seven at Rise Against (18.03.2016). Seven's popularity in Wolverhampton (and all the surrounding areas of Moustache Mountain) put Banks in almost the exact opposite position to his match with Brookes, going from default babyface to default heel. The two put on a match that was full of hard af strikes as Trent lit up his opponents chest like a flame emoji and the Kiwi gave as good as he got. The story saw Seven getting frustrated at the resilience of Banks, but after an intense conclusion it was the Black Country chap walking out with his arm raised. On the final show at The Planet, Planet Terror Volume 2 (15.04.2016), Banks wrestled Tyler Bate in absolute classic. The two appeared to push each other inside the ring to see who could hit harder, who could move faster and just about everything in between. It was considered by many to be the strongest match on a show that also include Seven v Zack Sabre Jr and a Death Match between Pete Dunne and Clint Margera. But there was a pattern emerging, as despite a spirited effort, Banks couldn't put Bate away...

Taking part in the FCP run CHIKARA Annversario Tour, Banks continued to impress in his struggle for victory. A Fatal Four-Way loss to Chris Brookes in a match that also included Frightmare and Officer Warren Barksdale at The Neon in Newport, before falling to Fire Ant in a three way, also with Frightmare in Wolverhampton and then even when tagging with international stars Drew Gulak and Tyler Bate, Banks' team fell to Dan Moloney & The Batiri (Kodama & Obariyon) at Bush Hall in London. 

When FCP moved to the Fixxion Warehouse (which recorded the hottest temperature in Earth history that summer), Banks competition continued to come from the upper echelon with the incomparable Zack Sabre Jr. at Rage Against the Death Machine (08.07.16). The two opened the show with a world class, technical wrestling spectacular. I'm still unsure how the pair worked such a physical, crisp match, with a great story inside a building that actually caused one fan to melt into a puddle, because of the heat. The bout stood out as one of the best of the entire year, anywhere in the country, but Banks still came out with another L in his column. So when Sami Callihan issued an open challenge for his FCP Championship at International Tekkers: The Beginning of the End (12.08.16), there were perhaps a few confused faces when Banks stepped up with a record of 4 losses and no wins. However, in Banks' first FCP main event, we got to witness a wonderful underdog story as Banks' fought against the detestable Callihan, putting every fibre of his being into taking the belt and proving himself. Yet by hook or by crook it was The Callihan Death Machine holding the FCP title at the end of the night. Project Mayhem V (23.09.16) saw Banks go up against Tyler Bate once again, but this time the bout was contested under Two out of Three Falls rules. As one would expect, the two upped their games from their April encounter, but the magic of this match in hindsight was that it showed us that Banks could win. He may have lost 2-1, but he still got a pin on one of the best in the country. The string of Match of the Night candidates meant that  Banks was winning over the crowd ...but he wasn't winning any matches.

Where Banks' journey began to come into it's own for me was the October weekender, as the crowd began to recognise what was happening and get behind Banks' struggle to earn a victory across three matches in three days. Firstly, a debuting Joe Coffey at Pulp Fixxion Part One, then Fire Ant at Pulp Fixxion Part Two and finally, in Manchester, Shane Strickland at Breaking into Heaven. All three names were not regulars to FCP at the time, Banks couldn't put them away. As each match went on the crowd support continued to build (especially in the two Wolverhampton event) and Banks frustration appeared to be building. Writing about the Fire Ant clash I wrote "(The Banks storyline) develop(ing) into something that feels like it could become something particularly special in the new year" as I found myself beginning to turn on anyone the Auckland man stepped in the ring with. It didn't matter that Coffey, Ant or Strickland were great talents in their own right or that they were all playing good guys, I was completely invested in the narrative of Banks' efforts to get a victory. Three stand-out matches across the weekend, but without a win it didn't mean squat diddly. 

Then came the Infinity Tournament (25.11.16). The Infinity Tournament is a pair of Four Way Elimination Matches with the winners advancing to the Final. After Trent Seven had bested Joe Coffey, Mikey Whiplash and Omari, Travis Banks was up against Jimmy Havoc, old rival Tyler Bate and Chris Brookes. This was a "story-telling thrill-ride", as it appeared like Havoc was romping to victory after sending Brookes packing and hitting a double acid rainmaker on Bate and Banks, only for Brookes to return and incite a brutal brawl with Havoc. This left Banks and Bate as the final two in the match and with a spot in the final up for grabs and The Kiwi Buzzsaw still searching for his first win, the atmosphere inside Fixxion Warehouse was unreal. The wrestling was superb as we'd seen twice before between these two, but there was one crucial difference. For the first match, Bate had been roundly supported, for the Two out of Three falls match the crowd was split, on that Friday night in Wolverhampton there was overwhelming of support for Travis Banks. Now was the time to pull the trigger and as I wrote at the time "The reaction when Banks finally managed to put Bate away resulted in near pandemonium and lead to me simply writing "BANKS WINS! BANKS WINS! BANKS WINS!" in my note book." 

Leading into the final with Trent Seven, there was a real special feeling inside Fixxion Warehouse. I honestly don't know if I've ever experienced an atmosphere like it, at a wrestling show or anywhere else. Both were Fixxion Favourites, but Banks had developed into something above and beyond, people were desperate to see him win, earn his title shot and get what his hard work and effort deserved, a singles victory. With almost a year of storytelling behind it, this match was a cut above their Rise Against match. There was silly near falls, silly no selling, Banks spending a silly amount of time in a Single Leg Boston Crab, it was one of the most gripping matches I can remember being in attendance for. Then there was the Banks victory, so sweet I actually jumped onto the apron. It was a cathartic experience, that will take some beating. "The first chapter of the Travis Banks comeback in Fight Club: Pro story had the happy ending it deserved at the time it needed it, I can't help but get excited about what the next chapter could bring!"...I wouldn't have to wait that long at all.  

With a guaranteed anytime (MITB style) title shot in his pocket, Banks started 2017 with another loss, inside a marvellous Fatal Four-Way, as Tyler Bate walked out victorious with Trent Seven and Mark Haskins also in the match at All The Best (10.02.17). Could the fairytale have been a fluke? After the match, Pete Dunne, the Fight Club: Pro champion jumped Banks. The Kiwi was destroyed, Dunne not wanting to leave Banks any chance at fulfilling the challenge he was about to set out. If Banks could defeat Dunne right there and then, Dunne would give him a one on one match for the title. When the bell rang, Banks caught The Bruiserweight off his guard, jumping to the middle rope and nailing a springboard roundhouse kick, earning him a more traditional style match for the belt. This was a piece of the story that would come into play very soon. 

Having fallen to British Strong-Style (Dunne, Seven, Bate) as he teamed with Will Ospreay and Wolfgang just one night earlier at Rise Against (17.03.17), Banks headed into his title match at First Female of Fight Club (18.03.17) with two losses on the bounce. With his previous record of twelve losses in a row still in the memory, it felt almost like he could be heading down that road again. He was getting the reaction on the show every night though, so the crowd still believed that Banks could topple the Bruiserweight, a man who had already beaten Sami Callihan, Trent Seven and Joe Coffey over the course of his title reign. 

The main event of First Female of Fight Club has to stand as one of the best stack-the-deck, underdog stories in recent memory as Banks had the title snatched from his fingertips on more than one occasion and Pete Dunne wheeled out a barrage of allies to try and take his belt home with him. In fact, there was a point where it appeared that the Cinderella story wouldn't have a happy ending. As the match began to heat up, suddenly Dunne roll-up Banks, jacknifing him as the Bruiserweight placed his feet on the ropes and the referee counted to three. Surely, the story wasn't going to end like that? "Bullshit! Bullshit!" echoed around the warehouse, but then eyes started to wander over towards the Infinity Trophy sitting by the merch desk. 

With  Banks having another opportunity at the belt, Dunne returned to the ring and a second contest began. With three losses on the bounce, surely Banks didn't have it in him to be champion. This second match was chock-full of dramatic near falls and kick outs, as Banks kept himself in the match and Dunne was kept in the match. First #CCK (Chris Brookes and Mondai Lykos) were out to stop a cover and then after Banks had murdered both (and Liz) with suicide dives, Damian Dunne turned up again like the bad penny to keep Dunne as the kingpin. Then there was the real shocker, the return of the man who Fight Club: Pro champion when Banks debuted, the Dunne Brothers former KYS cohort, MK McKinnan. He jumped in the ring, appeared to side with his old pal and reform KYS, only to switch, take both men out and nail a dive to the outside to take Damian out from the match. This left Banks alone with Dunne for what felt like the first time in the match. Before long Pete was trapped in the Lion Clutch and the crowd was on edge, begging their champion to quit...and then...he did. TRAVIS BANKS WAS FIGHT CLUB: PRO CHAMPION! 

Go back and look at the photo above. That's what happens when professional wrestling is done the right way. That's what happens when an audience invests in the product that they're watching. That's what happens when Fight Club: Pro run a year long story about a bloke from New Zealand who just can't catch a break. 

Without each element this story wouldn't have worked. If the fans weren't willing to be involved and follow a story or if the retention of fans from show to show wasn't as strong, if Fight Club: Pro hadn't had the conviction to follow the story and hit the right notes at every step of the way, if the opponent weren't of the quality of Zack Sabre Jr, Sami Callihan, Tyler Bate and others, if Travis Banks wasn't the world-class performer that if he wasn't when he arrived, he certainly developed into. 

All in all, to sum things up, Thumbs up for Travis Banks.

Words - James Marston 
Picture Credit - The Ringside Perspective & Beyond Gorilla

Twitter - @ATPWrestling 
Instagram - @ATPWrestling

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