Imagine if you saw the best NXT TakeOver ever, and it lasted three whole nights. That's the 2017 Battle of Los Angeles (BOLA if you're nasty), a super-indie pro wrestling tournament that only a fortunate few (myself, somehow, included) saw live.
In some circles, the lore of BOLA precedes the event itself. Not only are tickets incredibly hard to come by (my tip: teamwork makes the dream work), but the promoting fed, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), doesn't livestream the event, making everyone else wait a month for Blu-rays and DVDs and Video On Demand. Oh, and in addition to BOLA being the hottest ticket of the year, the event itself (which takes place in a tiny Veterans Hall) was of the most sweltering ever.
But if you managed to avoid spoilers (editor’s note: Cageside has them too - for stage one, stage two and the final rounds), which were everywhere as dozens in the venue were live-tweeting results, I've got a little treat for you. Since I was lucky enough to attend, I feel like it's my duty to give back by telling you just enough to keep you frothing with excitement, without spoiling any actual results.
Believe the Hype
Yes, the match quality of BOLA 2017 was exceptionally high, including a bout that Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer called the best match on U.S. soil this year. More impressively, though, practically every match was very good, if not great or excellent. I watched night 1 alongside a friend who'd only attended WWE shows, and he spent most of the damn time gripping my shoulder and howling with excitement.
BOLA also holds up against the best of the best. As a whole, it was better than any 3 night stretch of this year's G1 Climax, and it even edged out Progress's fantastic Super Strong Style tournament (another three back-to-back nights of solid wrestling). Even the least-adored night of BOLA beats any single event WWE put up this year. Going further, many said that Night 2 was a top 3 show in the whole history of PWG itself.
And yes, even though the least-expensive BOLA tickets ($85 for both general admission and standing room only) cost more than they have in previous years, the matches were more than worth that price. BOLA is so worth-it, in fact, that I'm already itching to watch it all again on Blu-ray.
The PWG crowd is one of the best
If you remember my name, it's likely because I wrote this screed decrying how the worst members of the WWE audience made it hard to enjoy SummerSlam weekend at the Barclays. As I told an acquaintance after night one of BOLA, the PWG audience and this event were the exact antidote I needed. Reseda, CA isn't just as far from Brooklyn, NY as you can get in the US, its crowd is just as different.
Because these tickets are practically impossible to get, PWG weeds out those who would rather play with a beachball than pay attention to the performers. You also don't see fans do The Wave there either.
Since the VFW hall is so small that the audience is limited to upwards of 300 people, its crowd can be self-policing. Thankfully, the good eggs far outnumber the rotten ones, and will drown out any rare voices that only serve to get themselves over and draw attention.
While a controversy on Wrestling Twitter (one attendee thought that guys should be spending the show trying to hook up with female fans) preceded the event, that nonsense didn't exhibit itself during the show, at least from what I saw and those I talked to.
BOLA's importance to performers cannot be understated
I didn't compare BOLA to NXT TakeOver just because the black-and-yellow brand put on the best WWE events this year, but because PWG's best and brightest have spent the last years bound for the squared circle inside Full Sail Arena.
Past BOLAs featured the likes of Tommy End, Tommaso Ciampa and Chris Hero, while the PWG events leading up to this year's included Kyle O'Reilly, Bobby Fish, Lio Rush and Adam Cole (BAYBAY), including one event actually called Head Like A Cole. And not only was this year's BOLA the last thing Donovan Dijak did before he ascended to NXT, it was crawling with career-making personalities from inside and outside the WWE.
The most prominent figures in wrestling writing -- The Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer and David Shoemaker of The Ringer (formerly of Deadspin and Grantland) were both spotted at BOLA.
But while the industry cognoscenti can influence the buzz surrounding talent, it's the WWE reps in attendance who can make the greatest impacts. I noticed The Brian Kendrick and Sean "X-Pac" Waltman around the venue, and others reported that William Regal -- who plays a significant role in talent recruitment -- also attended. It wasn't Regal's first time either, as this is where he reportedly discovered a young Kevin Steen (now Owens).
PWG calls in wrestlers from around the world, and they seize this opportunity
Some in attendance may have gone in familiar with every single talent performing, but I would guess that most did not. Jonah Rock, hailing from Adelaide, South Australia, may have been the least-known talent on the card, but left having impressed the Reseda faithful. He's a big man who can work at a fast pace, and I remember telling my buddy, "he's like if Brodus Clay were actually great!"
An even more important weekend was had by Flash Morgan Webster, who hails from Wales in the U.K., but is billed as Hailing From A Town Called Malice. While he didn't enter the tournament with the cache of his first round opponent Marty Scurll, Webster left the weekend having made a name for himself, ranking highly in the regard of at least one critic in attendance. While I'd seen his work in Progress before BOLA, he truly made a fan of me that night, selling Scurll's offense fantastically and working from beneath very well.
Travis Banks, the Kiwi Buzzsaw who makes up one half of the South Pacific Power Trip with the injured (but still in attendance) TK Cooper, also made the most of his BOLA debut. Throughout his matches, the Reseda crowd (some of whom may not have been familiar with the number one contender for the Progress World Championship), voiced their support with an increasing volume and bass.
Austrian super heavyweight WALTER arrived from the wXw promotion and recent showings in Progress and Evolve, and left even larger than his stature (which is saying something).
Almost nobody, though, emerged from BOLA better than Wichita Falls, Texas's Keith Lee. The big man, a giant who moves as if gravity forgot about him too, wrestled in multiple match-of-the-tournament candidates, and won the audience's hearts and lungs. Also, BOLA gave Lee tons of chances to ad-lib, wherein he demonstrated that he's one of the most charismatic colossuses we've seen in years, and unlike Braun Strowman, he does it with a full range of comedy and drama.
Here's a side note about Keith Lee that some might say they don't need to know, but I believe illustrates what an amazing human he is.
Unlike any other attending wrestler who competed, Lee wasn't selling any merch, as he diverted his resources to those who needed them back in his Tropical Storm/Hurricane Harvey-ravaged home state of Texas. Not selling merch is essentially leaving food and travel money on the table, especially when Lee's so popular with the crowd (I heard multiple fans ask him where his merch was).
Instead, the Friendly Fellow (a moniker he took during his current run in Evolve) gave out large format trading cards of himself from his Ring of Honor days in exchange for donations for those affected by Harvey. Class act. While he didn't advertise those cards as being from his ROH stint, they serve as a reminder of how that promotion let a singular talent such as Lee (as well as recent NXT signees Donovan Dijak and Lio Rush), slip through their fingers.
PWG is light on storylines, but does them well nonetheless
WWE gets rightly lambasted for storylines that hang on little more than a championship, and the PWG BOLA matches seem to be on a narrative diet in comparison.
Still, though, there are some through-lines for the weekend, and there is payoff. The combination of this style makes for an accessible series of events, so you could buy the three discs of BOLA on DVD or Blu-ray, without ever having watched an event before.
Curb Your FOMO
PWG takes place in a VFW hall (with a likely maximum occupancy of 300) in Reseda, California, and serves as a living embodiment of Murphy's Law.
You may have heard that BOLA was unbearably sweltering to experience live. It was. How bad? The official theme of BOLA 2017 could have been the classic song "Smooth" by Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas, because man it was a hot one.
As someone who watched nearly a year of PWG on Blu-ray before attending his first event, I spent a lot of the show missing my roomy sofa and the giant fan above it. At the PWG venue, you'll be lucky to ever notice the air conditioning, and barely have room to move.
Fortunately, when wrestlers fly out of your side of the ring -- and they will -- people do move fast enough to avoid getting hurt. Yes, you read that right, audiences are that close to the ring that you'll need to get up and strafe to avoid your favorites hitting you.
It's still an indie show
Even though BOLA booked in everyone's favorite Meltzer-star-generating machine Kenny Omega, it's still operating with the same quality equipment as other indies. Nowhere was this more apparent than on night 2 when the ring broke during the main event.
While the match continued (the ring break wasn't a work how the WWE stages them) the break is credited for likely forcing those in that match (Penta El 0M, Fenix, Flamita, Omega and The Young Bucks, Nick and Matt Jackson) to change that match on the fly.
After it was all over, one former WWE wrestler was overheard in the ring noting how unsafe it had become. And it sure looked risky, as each impact upon the ring made it jump and react as if it were a bouncy castle.
I'm going to go back, if I can
Yes, warts and all, I can't foresee myself skipping 2018's BOLA. Hell, I may be going back even earlier, whenever the company re-books The South Pacific Power Trip (TK Cooper and Travis Banks) vs The Young Bucks. The match, one of my most anticipated of the cards, was cancelled after Cooper sustained an ankle injury at Progress NYC in August.
Oh and the beer pitchers.
PWG only sells beer by the pitcher, a practice that I don't really understand. The best guess I can make is that they want to reduce the length of the beer line, which often wrapped around the ring at the start of the match.
Further, the venue sells out of its pitchers, due in part to fans just taking them home. Since I was told about this in advance, I just bought one beforehand and packed it in my luggage.
A note: after this article was published, a fan reached out to say that PWG sells beer by the cup. This may be true, but the venue and promotion do not highlight this capability, and I didn't observe it happen during my time there.
Henry T. Casey is a tech writer for Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag who can be found at @henrytcasey on nearly every social media service. He podcasts about wrestling at The Ring Post, which you can listen without worrying about it being too negative or going over every damn segment on Raw.