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As the clock strikes ‘Zero Hour,’ MLW establishes itself as the promotion to watch in 2018


In the 2004 Summer Olympics, the flag of Guam draped loosely across his 5’10”, 263-pound frame, Jeff Cobb galloped to Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece. A god among Pacific wrestlers, the light heavyweight freestyler stood on sacred ground, the birthplace of the oldest and most widely-practiced sport in history.

So it must have been a curious place to find him more than a decade later, doubled over in pain in the parking lot of GILT nightclub in Orlando, Florida, having been victimized by a pair of rogue mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters.

Welcome to the wild world of professional wrestling, currently on display in “The Sunshine State” under the Major League Wrestling (MLW) banner, which recently caught the eye of national sponsors like General Mills and Lagunitas Beer, along with the Fallout 4 video game.

Cobb, elbow-to-elbow with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) import Matt Riddle, recently settled a longstanding score with the “Filthy” duo of Tom Lawlor and Seth Petruzelli, who chewed some of the same dirt as Riddle inside the world-famous Octagon.

Since no one of sound mind would volunteer to match muscles with an able-bodied Cobb, whose torso is shaped like a shrink-wrapped challah bread, the most logical way to even the odds was to ambush the part-time luchador and bust up his sizable mitt.

Hence the parking lot beatdown leading up to “Zero Hour,” featuring the first-class broadcasting team of Tony Schiavone and Rich Bocchini back on Jan. 11. MLW put forth nearly a dozen high-quality (and some squash) matches inside a packed house, with select fans shelling out triple digits for premium seating.

That might sound like heavy timber for a wrestling show uploaded to less than a week later. Especially when the stream is available for just $4.99, cheaper than most drinks at your local Starbucks.

But not if you consider the live experience and all it entails. And no, it doesn't have anything to do with the walking distance from the ring to the bar (though it certainly made my booze commute much more tolerable).

It’s all about talent.

If Penta el Zero M does a corkscrew from the top turnbuckle, there’s a solid chance he’ll land in your lap. When athletic powerhouse Shane “Swerve” Strickland staples a dollar bill to the head of British phenom Jimmy Havoc — affectionately known as Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy-Fuckin-Havoc to his adoring fans — you can hear the grisly sound of metal meeting bone.

Hey, there’s a reason they call it a “Death Match.”

“I firmly believe in presenting a fusion of wrestling styles from around the world,” MLW founder Court Bauer told “Whether you like the British style, lucha libre, strong style, brawling, technical wrestling, whatever it is, MLW showcases variety. That includes our talent.”

“We have MMA fighters like Riddle and Lawlor, as well as the familiarity of veterans like ‘MVP’ or John Morrison,” he continued. “We also have southern brawlers like the Dirty Blondes and titans like the 469-pound super heavyweight Barrington Hughes. I like my wrestling like a good buffet – tons of options.”

MLW was resurrected with its “One Shot” extravaganza last October, followed by “Never Say Never” roughly two months later. But this is far from its first foray into live events, as the promotion was producing televised content as far back as 2002, before capitalizing on the shift in online entertainment.

That gave birth to the MLW Radio Network, which consistently occupies five-to-six spots in the iTunes top 100 in sports. And the reach goes beyond stateside, finding a home in United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, India, Denmark and Bangladesh, among others.

So why transition back to monthly events?

“We wanted to showcase and celebrate the next generation of talent that’s profoundly changing the sport and the culture backstage in ways it has needed for decades,” Bauer said. “What I did not expect was for the fans and media to be so supportive, and in response to high demand, we kicked things into high gear for 2018.”

MLW returns to GILT on Feb. 8 with “Road to the World Championship,” highlighted by the opening round of the promotion’s eight-man heavyweight tournament (see the bracket here).

As for Cobb, who competes in next month’s quarterfinals, the hampered hand was of little consequence. Riddle — living up to his moniker “The Chosen Bro” — scored the emphatic pinfall after several minutes of commoving, back-and-forth action.

Pro wrestling, or “sports entertainment” depending on where you ply your trade, has been a staple of global entertainment for nearly a century, featuring a pair of golden ages, one attitude era, and everything in between.

But with the dissolution of the old-school wrestling territories, live events are getting harder to come by. Those that do find a home often feature lethargic, broken-down names from yesteryear who bump for $50 and a bus ticket.

“What makes MLW different is that most other companies just book wrestlers, basic booking arithmetic,” Bauer said. “A monkey could book a good wrestler versus another good wrestler. MLW sprinkles in nuances that creates rivalries, and better feuds enhance these attractions. Most companies don’t bother doing that.”

“Another thing is our production standards. We present pro wrestling through the prism of it being a sport,” he added. “Take a look at our free show on YouTube or our VODs at and you can see they are distinctly different from anything else.”

To that end, MLW is working against the grain, stacking its cards with fresh talent and proven commodities both locally and abroad. It’s a familiar look with a new feel, but Bauer and Co. aren’t looking to reinvent the wheel.

They’re just spinning it faster than everyone else.

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