On September 4th, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla presented "Guerre Sans Frontiers", featuring the final California independent booking of "The American Dragon" Bryan Danielson. I was lucky enough to have a front-row seat to the event. It ended up being one of the greatest live wrestling events I've ever seen.
The show got started a bit behind schedule, but the joint was packed. There were between 400 and 500 people crammed into the American Legion Post in Reseda, CA. It was the biggest crowd I've seen in the building since Paul London's debut at "Express Written Consent" some months back.
Commissioner of Food and Beverage Excalibur was out first to open the show. He was also acting as ring announcer for the evening, with regular ring announcer Jon Ian noticably absent.
Brandon and Dustin Cutler & Charles Mercury vs. Johnny Goodtime, Shane Haste & Jerome "LTP" Robinson vs. Phoenix Star, Zokre & Malachi Jackson
The opening match was a three-way trios match with one fall to a finish. This was my first time seeing everyone except the Cutler Brothers and Los Luchas (Star and Zokre). Malachi Jackson looks so much like Nick Jackson that it's a bit startling at first. There was a huge set of dives within the first minute of the match and they were spectacular, wiping out our entire section of chairs. Eight big-time dives highlighted by Malachi's flawless Shooting Star Press off the top rope to the floor. This was pretty much exactly what you'd expect: a big, flashy pile of craziness with nine guys dying to impress the crowd, which was rabid right away and stayed that way for most of the night. Best crowd I've seen at a PWG show to date, but more on that later.
The Cutlers keep improving all the time, which is something that's exciting to watch, and every time they come out they are more over and better at being heels. Charles Mercury was a good dickhead, but mostly nondescript. I was impressed by the way LTP moved, he had a gorgeous dropkick, and the crowd loved the hell out of him. Shane Haste likewise impressed me with a fluidity that you don't usually see from a young wrestler with his size. Johnny Goodtime is solid and mostly did big, wacky moves. I really want to see a lot more of all three of these guys. Los Luchas are always solid and fill their role perfectly. Malachi is going to be every bit as good as his brothers, and he already looks promising. Goodtime, Robinson and Haste got the victory after Haste hit a brutal-looking Go To Sleep variation on Mercury and Goodtime hit him with a fisherman DDT for the pin.
This was a great match to fire up the crowd, went the perfect length of time (about 8:00 or so) and got a ton of new guys some exposure in front of a crowd primed to see what they were bringing to the table. ***
Christina Von Eerie vs. Candace LaRae
This was Von Eerie's PWG debut against LaRae, the promotion's tenured female wrestler. Von Eerie is a Misfits fan with a huge mohawk and tattoos, and has a really unique look, which is in her favor on the indie scene. I saw Von Eerie wrestle Raisha Saeed in Milpitas in the spring, where she played babyface and for whatever reason the match just didn't click, which is surprising given what a solid and experienced wrestler Saeed is. It seems like the problem may have been that Von Eerie is better suited to playing a heel. She really does well against such a squeaky-clean babyface as LaRae, and these two really beat the crap out of each other. They had a really stiff women's match, including a pedigree on the ring apron to LaRae. It's unfortunate that the crowd paid more attention to Von Eerie's tights starting to slip than to the match itself, but these two put on a good show. Entertaining and not too long, and LaRae won with a victory roll. **1/2
Scott Lost vs. Human Tornado
Lost was originally supposed to wrestle Naruki Doi before it turned into Danielson's last show and the TPI got cancelled, allowing for the booking of Tornado and El Generico. I was initially disappointed in Lost losing theDoi match, but as it turned out it was all for the best. Lost and Tornado clicked together so well, with Tornado super over as a babyface with the PWG crowd. (Note to everyone: coming out to "I'm On A Boat" is an unparallelled way to get off on the right foot with an audience.) These two did a lot of jokey-type spots as only they can, but had a perfectly solid match that built well and had the crowd really into it. Both of these guys are on top of their game right now, and I'm hoping Lost starts getting bigger and more important matches. Lost hit is roundhouse-kick-to-the-head finisher, The Big Fat Kill, and Tornado sold it like death, staying knocked out cold for minutes after the match, and eventually scooting backwards on his ass all the way out of the arena in horror after the loss. ***1/2
Roderick Strong vs. Karl "Machine Gun" Anderson
Every card has to have a low point, and this was it. These two guys were going for "epic heavyweight slugfest" but its position on the card, and the fact that it went about ten minutes too long, really dragged down the crowd. They did the chop battles, they did the power spots, they did the "One, Two, NO!" about twenty times. Strong has done this type of match well in the past, notably against Erick Stevens. It's a fine line between "epic" and "plodding" and if you're not careful, you're going to end up on the "plodding" side and stay there. This match felt interminable. Some people liked it, but I'm not one of those people. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if everything else wasn't so damn good, but I kind of doubt it. **
Naruki Doi vs. Joey Ryan
Next up was the first match featuring Dragon Gate talent. Naruki Doi currently holds Dragon Gate's top singles title, Open the Dream Gate. Joey Ryan is a former PWG world champion, and until Chris Hero passed him last month, was the longest-reigning champ in PWG's history. The fact that this was more-or-less World Champ versus Former World Champ added a lot to the match, and was an extremely vital layer to the effectiveness of the story they were telling. They had a very, very good match that built well with a lot of give-and-take from both men. The main story was Doi targeting Ryan's knee. Ryan was hobbled for much of the match before mounting a big comeback toward the end. He went for his finisher, the Mustache Ride, but it was blocked. After that, it was all downhill for Joey, as Doi renewed his assault. The end of the match was Doi hitting Ryan with every big move he had, but Ryan wouldn't go down. Ryan didn't get any offense or a comeback, he just wouldn't die. Doi finally hit a second Bakatare Sliding Kick and that was all she wrote. You couldn't ask for more from these two. ****
El Generico vs. Shingo
The crowd luckily had an intermission next, and it's a good thing they had some time to cool out because I really don't think anyone quite expected the level of match we'd be treated to next. Shingo came out with a shaved head, surprising the crowd into a "where's your mullet" chant. Glorious flowing locks or no, Shingo and Generico went full-tilt at each other, having a nonstop, hard-hitting and lengthy match. It's amazing that there was virtually no lull in the action, yet they built the match up to a fever pitch that had the crowd screaming at the top of their lungs. Shingo used power moves and worked on Generico's back. Both men had moments of being filled with fighting spirit. I think towards the end I actually said out loud, "I can't believe how great this match is." I love El Generico to death and I like Shingo a lot, and these two brought out the absolute best in one another. My hat is off to both of them. Generico ate a Last Falconry but got ANGRY and tried to mount a comeback. Unfortunately, a second Last Falconry proved too much and Shingo picked up the pinfall. ****1/2
Brian Kendrick & the Young Bucks vs. CIMA & the Motor City Machine Guns
Crowd was hot for Kendrick and CIMA, and was all over the Bucks, which gave Nick and Matt a chance to act like heels. I have to say, they're much better at it than I'd expect. This was quite the dream match, but unfortunately it felt really disjointed for the first half. There was a small vocal contingent of the crowd that kept calling CIMA a monkey torturer, which CIMA thankfully didn't even acknowledge. It was disappointing to say the least. CIMA was pulling out a lot of crude old-school Crazy Max-style spots like the middle-finger dick-poke, butt-humping one of the Bucks in the corner, etc. which was fun to see live, if a little bizarre. The last five or so minutes of the match were really hot and saved the match for me. Kendrick looks a lot more comfortable back on the indies than London did at first, but they've always been pretty different performers. CIMA hit Kendrick with the Schwein and then the Meteora and got the pinfall for his team. Okay match with a great finish. ***1/2
PWG World Heavyweight Title: Chris Hero (c) vs. "The American Dragon" Bryan Danielson
Danielson was obviously emotional from the start as he came out and took his time going around the ring slapping hands. The crowd could sense that he and Hero were going for something huge right away and the mood in the room shifted immediately. I have seen Hero defend the title a handful of times before, but this was the first one I've seen live that felt like an honest-to-God World Title Match. That is not a slight on Hero, more a testament to the atmosphere that the two men were able to create. The only negative thing I have to say about the match at all is that there were two extremely vocal Chris Hero fans seated right next to me that were practically interjecting themselves into the match, calling Danielson a "sell-out" incessantly, and irritating the entire crowd quite a bit. Other than that, Danielson and Hero performed note-perfect. They both used everything in their respective arsenals. Hero used some cravates. Dragon busted out the diving headbutt and the top-rope Regalplex (on terrifyingly loose ropes). Hero used a series of sentons and a fall-forward release vertical suplex that looked amazing. Danielson took a dive to the outside onto Hero, who held up a chair and Danielson started bleeding. Hero worked the injury, screaming for Danielson to bleed. The main focus of the match, beyond "This is Dragon's last match" was that Bryan Danielson is the best wrestler in the world, and Chris Hero is the world champ. Each man tore their soul out to prove to the other that they were truly the best in the world. Hero used the Hangman's Clutch, the Hero's Welcome, and the knockout elbows. Danielson used the Cattle Mutilation, the USB elbows, and the tiger suplex. These are two of the absolute best wrestlers in the world putting on the best match they know how. They went at least 45 minutes until Danielson hooked in a variation of the crossface chicken wing, and to everyone's absolute shock, Hero tapped, awarding the title to the new world champion, Bryan Danielson. The venue erupted. *****
Although Hero lost the match, looking back on it, it was clear that this was a passing of the torch. The best independent wrestler is leaving to the WWE. Chris Hero has spent the past year or so improving his game, becoming a legitimate heir to Dragon's throne. If anyone still doubts the ability of Chris Hero, this match will shut them up once and for all.
The crowd remained on its feet as Dragon was awarded the belt. Paul London came to the ring to present his "Hybrid Dolphins" teammate with a dolphin balloon and a hug. Danielson addressed the crowd, thanking them for everything and giving a heartfelt farewell speech. Most of the locker room came to the ring to congratulate him. Danielson announced that he would be vacating the belt, and that this year's Battle of Los Angeles in November would be a tournament for the World Title.
It was a spectacular show top-to-bottom, and a must-buy when the DVD is released.
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