Having had my appetite for wXw's brand of independent wrestling whetted by an amazing show at the Turbinehalle the previous night, I found myself thoroughly looking forward to their AMBITION card - if a little unsure what to expect.
Having no more than a passing familiarity with the German language (I survived the weekend using probably no more than four or five phrases), I'd picked up a vague idea of the show from wXw's website. My main impression was that it was going to be different from any wrestling show I'd seen before.
The venue was given as the Saint rock/metal club in Oberhausen, and the card promised an 8 man shoot-style wrestling tournament, featuring Bryan Danielson, Zack Sabre Jar, TJP, Tommy End, John Ryan, Johnny Moss, Wade Fitzgerald and Rico Bushido.
I arrived around 20 minutes before the doors opened, and the fans were all in good spirits, no doubt in part due to Germany's emphatic win against Argentina the night before. Once inside, Saint proved to be a smart looking venue with murals painted on the walls and ceiling, a big bar and on this occasion a good sized wrestling ring dominating the centre of the club. With probably around 150-200 fans packing the club, it was busy but not overcrowded, and once again the fans were able to stand right up by the ring apron for a close up view of the action.
Sunday 4th July 2010
The show started at 3pm, and the announcer entered the ring to explain the rules of the tournament. AMBITION was to be an 8-man shoot-wrestling elimination tournament, with the matches being decided by knockout (failure to meet a 10-count), technical knockout (referee's decision), submission or disqualification. I grabbed myself a seat by the bar ("ein bier, bitte!"), and waited for the action to commence.
TJP vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
The first match was between TJP, who had really impressed me the previous night at wXw Broken Rulz, and wXw's champion Zack Sabre Jr, a British wrestler I'd heard a great deal about who was a favourite with the local fans. Both men were given a great reception from the crowd, who quieted in anticipation as the match got underway.
It quickly became clear that AMBITION was going to be a lot different from a traditional wrestling match, bearing a lot more in common with MMA. No rope-running or turnbuckle jumping here, but a lot of stiff striking and hard grappling with a view to submissions.
TJP seemed to get the better of the opening exchanges, forcing his opponent to scramble to the ropes to avoid submission holds and bloodying his nose. Eventually, TJP picked up the victory with an arm submission. Both men set the scene well, drawing the crowd into the intricacies of the rules and giving us a good idea of what to expect from the matches ahead.
Johnny Moss vs. Wade Fitzgerald
Poor Wade Fitzgerald. He was on the receiving end of two losses the previous night at Broken Rulz, and his match at AMBTION looked to be something of a mismatch. Johnny Moss looked like an angry bull - big, powerful, with a chiselled physique and an intense look, almost the polar opposite of his opponent, who was a quick, young high-flyer. Fitzgerald looked to take it to Moss early, attacking with a flurry of strikes and kicks which fired up the crowd, but eventually fell prey to the big Cumbrian's power game. A couple of big throws noticeably slowed Fitzgerald, and a huge German Suplex saw him unable to make it back to his feet before the 10-count.
Jon Ryan vs. Rico Bushido
This first-round match was a battle of two contrasting styles - the British grappler Jon Ryan taking on the MMA/martial art style of Bushido. Bushido came to the ring in style, and received a fantastic welcome from the crowd. He took to the ring barefoot like a kick boxer, and sure enough he tried to rattle Ryan with strikes and kicks, while Ryan tried to take him to the canvas. It proved to be a real battle, with Bushido's striking having a noticeable effect on his opponent, who looked as though he was struggling to keep pace with his opponent. Ryan took a couple of knockdowns, before getting some measure of revenge, catching a showboating Bushido with a charge into the corner and a succession of throws. Bushido still looked the more likely to win, however, and it was a surprise when Ryan took him down to the canvas and locked in a chokehold for the submission.
Bryan Danielson vs. Tommy End
Once again, Danielson received a fantastic reception from the crowd, while his opponent, the Dutch wrestler Tommy End found himself on the receiving end of the crowd's anger. A great final first round match saw both men trading hold for hold, and both scrambling to the ropes to escape submissions. It also highlighted the realistic and intriguing approach AMBITION was taking, with Danielson laying roundhouse kicks into the left knee of Tommy End every chance he got. The more kicks the Dutchman took, the more he slowed, and despite making it back to his feet once, Danielson continued to focus his attack on the leg. Another sweep knocked Tommy down again, and despite almost pulling himself up by the ropes by the eight count, his knee buckled and gave way, leaving Danielson the winner.
wXw rules: Thumbtack Jack vs. Anthony Zeus
With the first round complete, the action reverted back to a traditional wrestling match, with a rematch from the previous night, and the renewal of the Dutch/German rivalries. Thumbtack Jack was the crowd favourite once more, and when a few fans started up a chant of "Zeus, Zeus, Zeus!" the rest of the crowd told them what to do in a decidedly non-PG fashion. As the match started, Zeus took his eyes off his opponent to wink at his fans, before being knocked straight out of the ring and right on top of them! The brawl continued around the ring, much to the delight of the fans who had to scramble out of the way. As the action resumed inside the ring, Thumbtack Jack showed off his intense high flying style, attacking with Low-Ki style stomps, before picking up the win with a vicious-looking knee strike to the head.
2nd Round: Johnny Moss vs. Jon Ryan
The big British grapplers squared off in round two, and looked very evenly matched in what turned out to be a real test of endurance. Both traded blow for blow, hold for hold and throw for throw in a long battle that saw both men desperately trying to get to the ropes and struggle back to their feet before the ten count. The match swung back and forth with the crowd cheering both men on as they looked for the finish. At one Moss managed to pin Ryan down, hitting him with multiple strikes to the head before calling for the referee to count him down. As the count rose, the crowd became more animated, and Ryan just made it to his feet in time. It was Johnny Moss who would pick up the win however, eventually catching his rival in a submission hold in the middle of the ring.
2nd Round: Bryan Danielson vs. TJP
Danielson and TJP had put on a fantastic show in a traditional wrestling match the previous evening, and they put on a similarly brilliant performance at AMBITION, but in a completely different manner. Both men strived for an advantage early in the match, trading holds with neither able to get the upper hand. Danielson eventually took the advantage after catching TJP with a number of strikes in the corner, and a beautiful butterfly suplex into an armbar. TJP roared back into it with a jumping stomp to a seated Danielson's head, and the battle swung back and forth from there with the crowd split almost evenly between the two. Every chant of "Let's go Dragon" was immediately followed by a chant of "TJP". The crowd were kept on the edge of the seats as both men hooked in submissions, only for their opponent to inch their way into the ropes, and both men hitting throws and kicks, only for their opponent to barely make it back up prior to the ten count. In the end, Bryan managed to catch TJP in a crucifix hold, and started to pummel him with MMA elbows, giving the referee no choice but to call the TKO.
wXw Rules: Bad Bones & Carnage vs. Big Van Walter and Karsten Beck
What a change of pace this one was. From the frantic back-and-forth action of the two AMBITION semi finals, to some tag team comedy gold. To be perfectly honest, I didn't have a clue what Karsten Beck and Big Van Walter were saying, but the two partners bickered their way through this one so much that I couldn't help join in the laughter. When Beck was roundly jeered by the crowd at the start of the match, Walter produced a lucha libre style mask and put it on his partner's head. Despite Beck's initial complaints, the jeers vanished and when he managed to take the advantage he soon changed his mind.
While there were plenty of laughs, there were also plenty of solid hits as well. It was a good, long tag team match, with plenty of hot tags on both sides, false finishes, double-teaming and spills to the outside. Beck took the brunt of the onslaught, much to the delight of the crowd, and a great spot where he took four corner charges in a row looked to have had the match ended, but Big Van Walter just managed to break up the pin. A few close calls later, and it was Beck who was pinned following another double-team combination. To round things off, Carnage and Bad Bones flattened the wXw referee in the corner.
AMBITION Final: Bryan Danielson vs. Johnny Moss
And so we moved on to the final match of the AMBTION tournament, with the American Dragon taking on the hugely impressive Johnny Moss. The crowd were once again into the contest from the start, and a cagey opening saw both men looking for an opening without fully committing to an attack. Danielson went back to his first-round tactics, sweeping at his opponent's muscled leg, while Moss tried to ground Danielson and wear him down. After some tense opening exchanges, Danielson managed to take Moss off his feet with his low kicks.
Moss made it back to his feet quick enough, but kept his guard low, looking wary as Danielson feinted the leg kick again. Suddenly, almost out of nowhere Bryan connected with a huge roundhouse to the head that dropped Moss like a stone. Danielson, reserved and patient so far, started yelling at the stunned Moss to stay down as the referee started his count, whipping the fans at ringside into a frenzy. Moss made it back to his feet by the eight count, and when Danielson looked to press home his advantage, he appeared to walk straight into a right hook and it was his turn to hit the canvas.
A nervous, unsure buzz went around the crowd, as it looked from the way Danielson went down as though he'd been seriously caught by the punch. The referee made the count though, and with the fans hammering the ring apron and cheering him on, Danielson made it back to his feet.
From then on it was back and forth, Danielson trying for various submissions, Moss hitting some massive suplexes and strikes, and at one point both men were down for the double count. Moss made it up at seven, Danielson looked to have made it up by eight but fell again, leaving the crowd gasping in unison as he staggered back to his feet by the merest fraction of a second. It really was gripping stuff.
As Moss lunged in for the kill Danielson managed to pull him into a triangle choke. Moss fought his way back to a vertical base, and showing immense strength lifted Bryan up while still in the hold, slamming him back to the mat in a power bomb style move. Still Danielson held on. The crowd were screaming for Moss to tap, but he struggled gamely back up again, repeating the power bomb, only for Danielson to hold on, drag Moss off his feet and start laying in the MMA elbows. The ref held off as the crowd went wild, before finally signalling for the bell and ending a match that could have easily been a main event on any show you care to name.
Following the match, the participants of AMBITION came to the ring to congratulate the winner. Rico Bushido took the microphone and thanked the fans for coming, talked about the history of wXw, about how wXw had given people with an MMA background the chance to put on a show and show what they could do.
Then it was the winner's turn, Danielson took the microphone and eloquently thanked wXw, saying how it was a brave and bold move for the company to try something different and innovative, and thanking the fans for their support and their help in making the show a success. A funny moment followed as the fans chanted "Best in the World" and "Thank You Dragon", only for Danielson to say he wanted to hear a different chant to close this show. The fans loyally responded with "Please Come Back", before a laughing Dragon said that wasn't what he meant either, and pointed to the man who'd taken him to the limit. And so a truly unique and memorable event ended with the fans chanting the name "Johnny Moss".
After being truly entertained over the course of the weekend by the wXw crew, I find myself agreeing 100% with Danielson's words at the end of the show. At a time when many wrestling promotions seem to be struggling, stagnating or watering down their products, it takes a lot of guts for an independent promotion to try something new and different. The style of match on display at AMBITION was so different from what people expect from a wrestling match that it could have easily fallen on it's face, but the pacing of the card, the constant flow of action and the competitiveness and dedication of the performers kept everyone entertained throughout. I don't think there was a fan there who would have considered the show to be anything but a resounding success, and I'm sure that bodes well for the future of wXw, and for their performers.
Needless to say, I had a fantastic time from start to finish, and I was made to feel so welcome by the people of Germany. It was a long way to travel, but it was definitely worth it. Hopefully it won't be too long before I'm standing in a wXw crowd again.