It’s a good time to be a wrestling fan in Preston.
A feast of in-ring action came to Lava & Ignite this month, as Preston City Wrestling (PCW) hosted three shows over one weekend.
It was a bold move to run two evening events on consecutive nights, with the performances sandwiching an afternoon exhibition by all-women promotion Pro Wrestling EVE.
But it was a decision vindicated by the size of the crowd and the quality of both shows.
The Road to Glory tournament had 16 wrestlers compete for that most elusive of opportunities – a shot at the PCW Championship this August at the company’s second anniversary event.
The first bout saw two of the cornerstones of PCW’s shows over the past 12 months go head-to-head, in what was surprisingly the first time they have faced each other in singles competition.
Martin Kirby, fresh from teaming with El Ligero in Project Lucha, faced Dean Allmark, a battling 5ft 9in cruiserweight.
Kirby may be a Yorkshireman but he is a popular figure in Lancashire, even when facing an accomplished face like Allmark.
The PCW crowd were right behind him from the beginning, yet he took a lot of heavy offence from Allmark, including the sweetest of moonsaults and a robust superkick.
Coming back with a powerbomb and facebuster, Kirby wasn’t able to take advantage, and Allmark edged the contest.
As the match reached its climax Allmark hit Kirby with a second-rope superplex, which saw the duo hit the mat and roll into a small cradle, with seemingly both of their shoulders down on the mat.
Allmark rose to his feet and took the plaudits, celebrating on the top turnbuckle.
But it was Kirby’s hand that was raised in victory by the referee, leaving the door open for an intriguing rematch later down the line, should PCW pursue it.
In the second match came Bubblegum, ‘from the blue side of Moss Side’, accompanied by the man he helped to capture the PCW Championship in January, T-Bone.
This inter-gender bout saw Bubblegum take on April Davids, a diminutive yet tough as nails wrestler from Wigan, who received a loud roar of approval as Lancashire’s representative.
Before the action began Bubblegum broke character to speak out as Philip ‘Pip’ Cartner, explaining that the match could be his last as he requires serious knee surgery.
With this fact common knowledge among many fans, the mood turned to one of sympathy and grateful appreciation for all his efforts, and he received a standing ovation as he shook hands with April. But of course the 5ft 6ins pest stayed true to form, seizing the chance to poke April in the eyes and try for a cheap roll-up victory!
His opponent had a response of her own – a succession of strikes and high impact release German suplexes, including one exploder suplex that made the crowd wince and Bubblegum curse loudly.
Throughout the bout April was presented very much as her male counterpart’s equal - which is something that’s good to see and needed more often in wrestling in general.
Sadly for her, T-Bone helped Bubblegum gain the upper hand, climbing up on the ring apron and slapping her in the face when the referee’s back was turned.
She did manage to land a suicide dive on her tormentor, but the momentum had changed, and when Bubblegum rested outside, T-Bone struck the pivotal blow.
Entering the ring, he slugged her square in the face with a sickening right hand, which she sold wonderfully, collapsing to the mat. A double-knee drop onto her prone body was enough for Bubblegum to progress.
Southport’s CJ Banks was next out, in a controversial match against former PCW Champion Kris Travis.
Otherwise known as ‘The Juice’, Banks is a natural heel, with a menacing look and a downright nasty demeanour, which is reinforced by his brutal moveset.
The match started at a frantic pace with Kris going for a series of high impact arm drags, before Banks delivered sharp knees and head-butts.
Chants of ‘Carlton Banks’ did little to lighten his mood, and CJ repeatedly screamed ‘come on pretty boy’ as he laid into Travis.
Following an impressive kip-up the ex-champion took control of the match, but T-Bone and Bubblegum entered the equation once again.
Bubblegum shouted ‘you missing something?’ in reference to Travis’ belt, and with Kris distracted, T-Bone stepped up onto the ring apron behind him.
Travis kicked T-Bone down and dived onto him, but the duo launched a vicious beatdown outside, T-Bone powerbombing his rival onto the floor.
Many in the crowd expected Banks to be disqualified due to the outside interference, but instead referee Des Robinson counted out Travis - a finish that didn’t go down well with Travis’ fans.
Generally matches fought under no disqualification rules are also contested under a no count-out stipulation, so their frustration was understandable.
However, this anger was short lived as T-Bone then took to the mic to inform Travis he had taken him out of the tournament because he wanted to face him the following night, in a rematch for the PCW
Kid Fite, one half of the PCW Tag Team Champions, Fight Club, was next up, ready to battle former WWE and TNA star Brian Kendrick, in what was the Virginia natives’s UK indy debut.
The crowd was undeniably hot as Kendrick emerged in his trademark white jacket, bopping and dancing to his dubstep entrance music of Sweet Talk by Kito and Reija Lee.
Kendrick was trained by arguably the greatest performer of all time, Shawn Michaels, and there is no doubt he can go in the ring.
However, his peculiar character has not always got over with fans, and sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on what reaction the former TNA X-Division Champion is looking for.
Nevertheless, he had no such problems connecting with the PCW faithful, and the audience were firmly behind him here, as he participated in some pre-match banter, before displaying the breadth of his acrobatic talent.
Kid Fite played his part well - the highlight of the Scot’s assault being an impressive dropkick after he hung Kendrick up in the Tree of Woe - and the match went longer than those before it, culminating in a great to-and-fro exchange of punches and kicks.
In the closing stages Kendrick went for his Sliced Bread #2 finisher, which Kid Fite reversed into a fireman’s carry neckbreaker. But when the Glaswegian took to the top rope he leapt into Kendrick’s foot and the American was finally able to hit his version of the shiranui for the win - a victory he celebrated by hugging his vocal support in the crowd.
Oasis’ cover of I Am The Walrus blared out across the speakers to signal the arrival of Joey Hayes, cocky as ever.
But it was his opponent, Kendrick’s former WWE tag team partner Paul London, whose entrance was more memorable... and surely the longest in PCW history!
Sporting a garish orange astronaut’s jumpsuit, London took an eternity to reach the ring, high fiving and shaking hands with fans both real and imaginary, talking to invisible friends in the mirror, and circling the room at least twice.
The crowd let out a massive cheer when he finally stepped between the ropes, but London was soon back outside, confronting Hayes, who wielded a chair.
When London picked up a chair, Hayes picked up two, and when London grabbed a bottle, Hayes grabbed a little kid! Prompting London to lift a larger child up onto his shoulders. Fortunately no children were harmed in the making of this match!
The atmosphere was electric as the duo eventually locked-up, Hayes administering a variety of mat-based holds with London attempting to quicken the pace whenever he wrestled free.
Half of the crowd were still behind Hayes, but he frustrated London by regularly taking breaks and recovering outside the ring, ensuring that the action was stop-start at best - tactics that should earn the ire of the PCW support in time.
The intensity picked up when London suffered a hardway cut, blood obscuring his eyes, and one Irish whip delivered by Joey on London caused the entire ring to shake, such was its ferocity.
London is not as lean as in his WWE heyday, but he has lost little of his ability, and in the final third of the match both he and Hayes took the bout up a gear with some good old fashioned, hard work.
When London missed a shooting star press off the second rope it appeared Hayes could triumph and this came to pass, as he locked the American in a crippler crossface that London just could not escape, despite almost rolling out.
Following his victory Hayes continued to attack London, causing Kendrick to come to his pal’s rescue - setting the scene nicely for a confrontation between the pair.
A duel between two Scots in Fife’s Andy Wild and Noam Dar from Ayr was next on the card, with Wild enjoying the height and weight advantage over the PCW Cruiserweight Champion.
It was clear from the get-go that the pair had good chemistry and they brought the best out in each other, displaying a great series of counters and reversals.
One sequence saw Wild roll out of a bad predicament and lock in a tight Boston Crab, while he made use of his superior strength to launch Dar with an overhead suplex into the turnbuckle.
But Noam was able to kick out of Wild’s tiger driver and after working his leg with some choice kicks and a well-placed stamp his painful looking knee bar submission was far too much for Wild to sustain.
Post-match CJ Banks hit the ring and assaulted Dar, weakening him ahead of their confrontation in the next round.
But the chorus of boos from the crowd was suddenly replaced by cheers as Dave Rayne’s music hit and he strode to the ring with purpose, clutching his Money In The Bank Briefcase.
Banks stepped aside to allow Rayne to cash in his title shot, but Dar caught Rayne in his knee bar, suggesting that he would thwart his opportunist plan.
However, this was merely a clever bluff, as Rayne reached the ropes, regrouped and managed to hit Dar with a sunset flip variation of his double knee backbreaker.
When he hit Noam with a facebuster for the win the venue erupted – it was easily the biggest pop of the night and probably the show’s defining moment. It was a wise decision to have Rayne pursue this title rather than the PCW Championship and it paid off in spades here.
Dar was disconsolate in defeat, but of course, relinquishing one title allows a wrestler to concentrate on winning another…
In a preview of the next day’s Pro Wrestling EVE show Kay Lee Ray and Carmel Jacobs tore into each other, Ray beginning the mayhem by diving onto Jacobs and her valet for the night, Sara-Marie Taylor.
After a vicious dropkick that sent Jacobs flying into a group of chairs, some of the crowd chanted ‘we can’t see’.
Ever the crowd pleaser, Ray shouted ‘who can’t see?’, dragged Jacobs over to the group in question and Irish whipped her opponent into the fire exit doors. Audience interaction at its finest!
The action was ferocious and Jacobs began to shine, pulling out the old Bryan Danielson ‘I’ve got till five!’ line when pestered by the ref while torturing Ray on the ropes.
Both wrestlers displayed impressive bridges while administering submission holds but the action soon became more frantic, Ray delivering a blistering flying forearm and a crazy suicide dive again onto Taylor.
Yet her enthusiasm proved her undoing, an attempt at a swanton bomb crashing into Carmel’s knees, which allowed Carmel to grasp the win with her Air-Raid Crash fireman’s carry slam finisher.
If anybody needed a reason to catch the next day’s Pro Wrestling EVE show, this was it.
Back to the tournament it was time for the unpredictable Mad Man Manson to take on the daunting physical mass that is Dave Mastiff.
Short but sweet, this match saw Manson provoke some great laughs, mainly in his foolhardy attempts to shift the immovable object.
However, the comedy wouldn’t have been such a hit if it wasn’t for the dry act of Mastiff – promising at one stage to catch Manson if he threw himself over the top rope in his direction.
Manson played to the crowd and admitted he had ‘trust issues’ – asking Mastiff to stand behind him and catch him if he let himself fall. Cue Manson dropping forwards Ric Flair fashion and smacking his face on the mat.
The highlight however was Manson failing to pull off a turnbuckle headstand – only for Mastiff to execute one perfectly in the opposite corner! The chants of ‘holy ****’ were well deserved and the chorus of ‘cruiserweight’ almost made Mastiff crack into a smile of his own, that is before Manson gave him an upside down kiss. And they say watching men in tights wrestle is homoerotic!
Eventually the bout descended into a wild brawl, which saw both men admonished by the referee as they shoved him about, before he declared the match a no-contest. True to form, Mastiff thanked the official with a knuckle sandwich!
The main event was a mouth-watering prospect – ECW and WWE alumni Super Crazy from Mexico fighting the British ‘Mexican’, El Ligero.
Super Crazy came to the ring carrying his GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship and carried himself very much like a champion.
He backed this up with a performance showcasing the variety of moves and application to his craft that has propelled his 25-year career.
Ligero rose to the occasion, selling the prolonged beating he received from Crazy with aplomb, from being planted on the steel railings to taking an old ECW style drop toe hold onto a steel chair and then having said chair kicked in his face.
Ligero is a big PCW crowd favourite but those in attendance couldn’t help but show their admiration for Crazy, as he twisted and pulled his foe, first with a tarantula hold on the ropes and then a beautiful Mexican surfboard stretch.
The match swung in Ligero’s favour when Crazy missed the third of three moonsaults, one of each rope. Fortunately Crazy also narrowly missed Lava & Ignite’s dangling lights!
Ligero then dumped Crazy outside, before flying into him with a stunning topé through the ropes. And the aerial moves got even more spectacular, as Ligero launched a successful moonsault off part of the entrance wall.
Back in the ring Crazy decided it was time for him to dish out some breathtaking offence, including a standing moonsault.
It was one of those matches when nobody really wants to see either man lose, just for the madness to continue – from Crazy barking at the ref to hold the rope as he suplexed Ligero inside, to Ligero nailing a springboard tornado DDT. Both wrestlers’ names were raining down back and forth, giving way to a mutually appreciative ‘olé, olé olé!’
However, all good things must come to an end, and you could sense it was coming when Super Crazy kicked out of a high frogsplash with relative ease.
Hitting Ligero with a sick Michinoku Driver wasn’t enough – Crazy then pulled out a spinning sit-out powerbomb. As Ligero’s limp body bounced on the mat, it was clear the contest was over.
A victory for the import hadn’t seemed likely at the beginning of the night, but Crazy soaked up the adulation as he celebrated with Ligero’s Mexican flag, before folding it and respectfully handing it back to him, acknowledging his effort.
The thought occurred that not for the first time Ligero had lost a match, but walked away looking like the winner.