Monday, 19 February 2018

SLAM Wrestling Live in Cannock Review // 18th February 2018

When I heard my Mom had booked tickets to SLAM Wrestling at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Cannock for my nephew Freddie's birthday present I have to say I was already a little apprehensive about joining them. The previous show I went to at the theatre had been at best okay, but had also involved a bafflingly large table being pulled out during a women's table match, which then was accidentally dropped onto a child. SLAM employ a campy "Shall I hit him type" style, prevalent at British holiday camps, but without much technicality or psychology. This is fine for some, but really isn't my cup of tea. However, considering Freddie's brother Joe and my nephew's Nathaniel and Tobias were also going, at the very least I had to attend to keep some of the children under control (especially after a visit to the nearby McDonald's before the show). I thought at the very least, I'd have fun watching the children interact with the various characters and maybe get a little chuckle out of some of the action as well. We had a 30-man Royal Rumble and a Fatal Four-Way SLAM Wrestling Heavyweight Championship match featuring Johnny Diaz (who I think I remember working a few Fight Club: Pro dark matches as Johnny T), Eddie Woods, "The Submission Technician" James Terry and "Smethwick's Only Son" and champion Corey Johnson on hand, but how did it all go down in Cannock? Lets take a look. 

Production & Venue 

The venue was pretty well packed out, pushed as sold out by the ring announcer, although there was a number of empty seats on the stage and in the raked seating too, but still a solid 300 for a Sunday afternoon at the Prince of Wales. The production at first looked impressive, with a nice little entrance way and a pair of dry ice machines, leading to one of those ramps that goes straight into the ring, like WCW or TNA had for a bit. Unfortunately one of the dry ice machines broke pretty early and spat a watery substance (wet dry ice?) onto the crowd around it, whilst the other seemed to go off at random half-way through. There was also a weird piece of hype audio that played before the start of each half, ripping audio clips of Michael Buffer and the guy that does the voice overs for TNA PPVs. It confused the hell out of me and seemed unnecessary, especially when the ring announcer then spent a good ten minutes explaining to the crowd how to boo and cheer. Before the main event we also had to sing happy birthday to four ladies, not once but twice. Some of their birthdays weren't for over a fortnight. If anyone's name is spelled incorrectly, blame it on my complete lack of knowledge of a lot of these guys and a ring announcer who was often difficult to understand. 

30 Man Royal Rumble 

Ruddy hell, where to begin with this one? Lets begin at the end, because it was the most interesting, yet also stupid parts of the match. Lets break it down, shall we? Firstly, the 30th entrant Axl Carter didn't appear and then about a minute later he did appear to no music (I can only imagine he was on the loo and missed his entrance), then once he got to the ramp, some music hit and out came two lads with red steel chairs with the words OBK printed on them, in a style almost exactly similar to the font CCK uses. They battered Carter and proceeded to twat everyone left in the ring with the chairs and some of the biggest Kendo sticks I've ever seen, as well as a baking tray (Seriously, these lads must be really into Chris Brookes & Kid Lykos). In the end, despite guys appearing to come back in the ring, the OBK tandem chucked everyone over the top as their music played liked they were the bloody Gangstas and "won" the Royal Rumble. WHAT? No. 1. They weren't in the match. 2. That's not how it works. 3. WTF? Why would you choose to end a family show in a venue you run twice a year like this? Why would you think any of this was a good idea? The crowd seemed bored for most of the Rumble, but it felt like a lot of people switched off when an already complicated match for non-regular wrestling watchers descended into whatever the hell this was. It wasn't even the most stupid part. That came when one of the lads tried to attack a referee on the floor with the kendo stick, only for the ref to no sell three or four shots and take the stick off him. This was after at least eight wrestlers had sold the shots like car crashes in the ring. 

Beyond a few things I'll talk about in a moment, the match was painfully dull. Twenty minutes of wrestlers coming in and doing very little of note, before joining in punching and kicking someone in the corner or getting punched and kicked in the corner. One of my notes was "nothing happens" and that's because NOTHING HAPPENED. Very few of the guys came in and made anything resembling an impact and the main positive was that the entrances were around every thirty second, so at least we got to count down from five quite often, which as a wrestling fan is one of my favourite things to do (counting down from ten being higher on the list). That being said, for some daft reason, all the wrestling came out to the exact same entrance music. It was mildly amusing that the track was paused and then played from the same point for the next entrant, making it feel like the world's maddest game of musical statues, but I don't think this was the feel they were going for, because no one stood still when the music stopped. There was some kind of Rumble reference in the song, but even still I didn't need to hear the repetitive hook time and time again throughout the 30 minute match.

Lets close on some positives, because despite the fact I hated my life for almost the entire 35 minutes of this bout, there were a handful of decent moments. A lot of this had to do with the brawl between Johnny Diaz and Eddie Woods. Woods had eliminated Diaz from the four-way earlier in the night, with Diaz aiding Woods exit later on, so when Woods hit the ring and eliminated Diaz and then chucked himself over the top rope there was, at least, an element of good storytelling. It would've been cooler if Woods had done the classic Cactus clothesline spot, but you can't have everything in this world, James. Throughout the match the two would continue to brawl, disapearring behind the various doors in the theatre (having worked in this theatre myself, this was actually some rather clever use of that space). Each time Woods and Diaz would reemerge it would perk up the crowd, who at least had something interesting and intense to watch, whilst twelve or thirteen guys threw half-arsed punches in the ring. I also thought Athena Furie bought a little something to the bout as the first female entrant, coming in with more energy than the guy and even if her missile dropkick was perhaps the worst I'd seen, she was at least trying to do something entertaining.

SLAM Heavyweight Championship // Elimination Match //  "Smethwick's Only Son" Corey Johnson (C) def. "The Submission Technician" James Terry and Eddie Woods and Johnny Diaz 

You thought the finish of the Rumble was over-booked and/or confusing? There couldn't possibly be another daft finish on the same show, could there? Could there? COULD THERE? Yes, dear reader, there could. Get your head around this one, kids. We're down to Corey Johnson, the champion, and James Terry, who is apparently returning from a lengthy injury lay off, with Johnson's fellow Tag Team Champion Nate Lewis at ringside. Terry has a clear pin, but Lewis has the ref distracted, no problem so far, then the ref is pulled to the floor and Lewis puts the striped shirt on, which now means he's the referee, this is the start of the slippery slope. Slow pin falls ensued, with Lewis refusing to count the three, at least twice, before another referee arrived and argues with Nate, the original referee gets back in the ring and they send him packing. It's needlessly complicated for the audience, but if this was it and we headed to a finish it wouldn't have been too bad. But there was more. Lewis came back in the same boiler suit that Johnson was wearing, replaced Johnson in the ring, after throwing powder in the referees eyes and ended up taking the pinfall. Holy overbooking, Batman. Terry ended up looking like a fool for celebrating with the belt, because he'd clearly pinned a man with hair instead of the bald champion, whilst both Johnson and Lewis had both clearly been pinned, despite their being two of them. The match was restarted and Johnson won somehow, at this point, I think my head was too busy being in my hands to notice what the actual finish was. 

The rest of the match was mostly sloppy action, including an awful superplex that eliminated Diaz. This wasn't helped by numerous pinfalls and submissions (despite being the submission technician I think Terry only put one hold on all match) being broken up. Lads, its an elimination match. Both in and out of kayfabe this makes you look really dumb. I know these matches are rare, but it shouldn't take that much of an adjustment. Out of it all, I thought Woods seemed to have the most potential in the mix and this was compounded in the Rumble with his brawl with Diaz. He hit a nice somersault plancha at one point, that was impressive for a big chap. Honestly, though this coming straight before the Rumble and the two awful finishes back to back completely killed the show for me, but after the match it was revealed there would be a Lumberjack rematch between Johnson and Terry at the 30th August show in the same venue, after an angle where Terry threatened to break Lewis' leg. I'm tempted to return just to see how much over-booking they can fit into a Lumberjack match!  

SLAM Inter-Counties Championship // Aaron James def. Ricky Riot and Jimmy Dean and Luke Kedgeley // Pinfall

Another Fatal Four-way, but this time not an elimination match saw Aaron James able to retain his title with a pin over one of the other guys. I put "one of the other guys", because beyond Ricky Riot, the other three lads in this match seemed to have come out of the same factory. Very similar gear, very similar mannerisms, very similar everything. These guys were very similar. This meant most of the match was confusing to follow, whilst the crowd seemed unsure who they were supposed to be getting behind. Riot was the only guy with anything resembling a character, coming out in a funky shirt Christmas?), but I'm still not sure exactly what his character was and whilst he was clearly positioned as the matches main villain, he had the most exciting offence out of the four and therefore got a decent amount of support from the audience. The action was mostly disjointed, but there were a couple of highflying spots, such as a double suicide dive to star, a nice somersault plancha and a mid-rope moonsault, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you who hit them. 

"Big" Tim Burns & Bobby Vegas def. Liam Roberts & Lloyd Atari // Pinfall 

The opening match of the evening saw "Big" Tim Burns & Bobby Vegas, collectively known as XXXXL (maybe one less or one more X) go over Liam Roberts & Lloyd Atari when Burns picked up the win with his version of the World's Strongest Slam. It seemed a weird decision to have the heels go over in the opener, but considering some of the booking later on, it doesn't seem all that strange now. This felt like it was going to be a basic tag match with the younger and fast Roberts & Atari against the massive Burns and pal and for the most part that's what we got, with a handful of baffling moments. The general story played out that the babyfaces couldn't handle Burns, but had no real problems with Vegas, which is cool and made sense for how the characters were presented. What didn't make much sense was Roberts/Atari a comeback once Vegas was tagged and then locking on a head lock. Followed up by more low level submissions once Atari/Roberts was tagged. This killed the crowd, who were obviously awaiting a hot tag, that didn't come. The highlight was a pair of diving crossbodies to the floor from Roberts & Atari towards the tail end of the bout, which still ended up managing to be the second best on the show. 

Layton Cole def. "Simply Wonderful" Adam Idol // Pinfall 

The best match on the show, by quite some way as Layton Cole picked up a clean win over Adam Idol in what was announced as a grudge match. The match stuck to simple things, with two clearly defined roles, as Idol stalled from the beginning after telling the crowd they sucked in a promo. The bout mixed in a handful of big spots that helped to produce the feeling that this wasn't a regular match between the pair, including Idol reversing a piledriver attempt on the wooden ramp into a backbody drop and a diving leg drop from Cole that ended up being the moment of the show. In fact, the main problem the match had had nothing to do with either wrestler as it was the referees ridiculously slow count that threatened to rob the match of any drama that had been created from a number of otherwise good near falls. If the rest of the show had been of a similar quality then I would've come away having had a much better time. Believe it or not, without this match the show would be receiving a significantly lower rating...

ATPW Scale Rating // 1.84 out of 10

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale 

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