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A Tale of Two Wrestling Shows

This past weekend began and ended (sort of) with me attending live wrestling. Friday night was at the jeffersonville Arena, where I saw the return of former backyard promotion XCF. Monday night was at the Yum Center: Monday Night Raw.

Friday night’s show was one of the most joyous atmospheres I’ve ever experienced in pro wrestling. XCF, as I noted on this blog last week, began with a bunch of kids putting on shows in their backyards. Many of those kids have become notable stars in the Indies, not the least of which was Friday’s ring leader Shane Mercer. Every single one of the guys who came back to play Friday brought their inner child with them.

Shane Mercer promised there was not a dud on the card, and he delivered. Every match was a treat, and the card read like an Indie fan’s dream come true. Credit promoter Terry Harper for some of that. Terry books matches HE wants to see, and Terry’s tastes are awesome. Gary Jay and Lord Crewe tore it up. So did Aaron Williams and Chance Prophet. So did Atticus Kogar and Jason Kincaid, who I swear is the most creative, surprising, and innovating wrestler working today. So did Matt Naff and Kongo Kong, who was represented at ringside by Rodney Rush.

I may have missed something, but it felt like Rush and King expected to play the heels, but when the fans gave Kong a monster (no pun intended) reception, Naff cut a promo that clearly put him at odds with the crowd and lit a fire in Kongo Kong. Like I said, not a dull match on the card.

Fans were also thrilled by some of the surprises XCF sprang on them. No one present ever expected to see Simon Sezz, a huge local favorite, in a wrestling ring again. Yet there he was in the middle of the battle royal that delivered just as much action, comedy, and fun as any Royal Rumble. Aidan Blackhart garnered a similar pop for his entrance, as did Mercer, who surprised everyone by entering the battle royal last.

This was no vanity show for Mercer, however. He was eliminated before the match got down to its final four, and he took the final pin of the night in the main event against fellow XCF original Satu Jinn.

Speaking of that main event, what a once-in-a-lifetime performance that was. Four tag teams squared off in the finale: Mad Man Pondo and Duke the Nuke; John Wayne Murdoch and Satu Jinn; Iron Beast; and Billie Starkz with Mickie Knuckles. The bout started with a mat wrestling display put on by Mad Man Pondo and Shane Mercer. You read that right. Mat wrestling.

I also saw John Wayne Murdoch actually do wrestling “moves” for the first time. I say this not as a critique of Murdoch but as praise. I’m used to seeing Murdoch and his regular tag partner Reed Bentley brawl rather than rassle. Murdoch showed he can work a “normal” wrestling style as good as anyone Friday, furthering my belief he was simply born in the wrong time and would have been a huge star for Jerry Jarrett or Cowboy Bill Watts.

And dang it, Billie Starkz had me a little emotional Friday night. I remember when thirteen year old Billie made her debut in that building, so it was hard not feeling choked up seeing her go toe to toe with “Dad Man” Pondo, taking a Stop sign to the face, delivering a moonsault to her mentor, and then chokeslamming Duke the Nuke on top of him. She’s headed to Japan for the first time this week. She turns 18 next month. She’s headed for the top of the business sooner rather than later.

Fans in the arena had a chance to meet many of the XCF boys during intermissions and after the event, but many also got a chance to meet some boys from other local promotions. I won’t say their names because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. They weren’t allowed to work the show because of their ties to other companies, but they came anyway as fans and friends. Their inner children came out as well as they cheered on their pals. Friday was all about the love of wrestling. Pure, unadulterated love.

But you know what I found strange? Monday night, I felt the same vibe.

Yes, this was WWE. This was corporate wrestling. This is a show I don’t keep up with for many reasons, with one of my biggest knocks being there’s just not enough wrestling on their TV shows. A week before I tweeted from a treadmill in Planet Fitness that Raw had been on the air a full twenty minutes, and it had been nothing but talking.

Monday started with talking. No surprise. But the talk ended sooner than the week before. The wrestling began, and it felt very different than any Raw or Smackdown I have attended in the past.

No three minute rushed matches. No quick squashes. Every match was given time to develop and tell a story, many of them lasting through at least one commercial break.

It was clear everyone walking that ramp was having a good time. You couldn’t help but feel the energy from everyone who made an appearance on stage or in the ring. Fin Balor and Seth Rollins delivered a great main event. Austin Theory and Dolph Ziggler stole the show, with Ziggler proving that outside Flair and Ricky Morton, no one in the business sells better than him. Matt Riddle and Chad Gable were terrific as well.

Plus, I got to see Io Shirai wrestle in person. That was a treat.

The WWE filled the breaks with fan-interactive activities like the DX Cam and the Undertaker Cam, encouraging fans to mimic their favorite stars. It was fun not only seeing the kids play along, but watching the camera crew in the arena seemingly do the same double take when the camera fell on former WWE star (and New Albany basketball legend) Rob Conway.

And proving Louisville fans never, ever forget their heroes, Shelton Benjamin was welcomed with an “O-V-Dub” chant for his bout with Dominik Mysterio.

Word has it that the atmosphere backstage at WWE has completely changed not that Triple H is in charge. No one’s walking on egg shells. People no longer fear week to week about being fired. Most of the restraints have been taken off roster members as far as social media and outside money opportunities. That looseness backstage translates to the performances in front of the fans. Everyone seems to be having fun again. They’re enjoying being pro wrestlers, and you can’t help but enjoy watching what they do.

If I had to pick one or the other which one would I choose? Sorry, not gonna go there. I enjoyed both XCF and WWE, and I fully expect to enjoy OVW just as much tomorrow night in their go-home show before Thanksgiving Thunder. If there’s any takeaway for casual fans in this blog, it’s this: yeah, WWE has changed for the better. It’s much more fun than I remember the last time I saw it live. But Do. Not. Sleep. On. The. Indies. Do not miss your chance to see and meet rising stars like Billie Starkz. Don’t underestimate the ability of an indie promotion you’ve never heard of – or a long-running indie like OVW – to suck you in with great matches and great, long term story telling.

I will always say you get more bang for your buck at an indie show. Cheaper tickets, cheaper merchandise, and more opportunities to shake hands and take photos with the wrestlers. But the WWE definitely showed me it’s a different company than it was the last few years. New blood has revitalized the promotion just as it did in Louisville for OVW.

This is a great time to be a fan.

Thanks to Terry Harper and Shane Mercer for letting me bring books to Friday’s show. And thanks to Mad Man Pondo and Ref Daffney (formerly known as Girl Fight Champion Aja Perreira) for Monday’s ticket.

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XCF: A Boyhood Dream Reborn

If Terry Harper’s name is attached to a wrestling show, I pay attention. The concert promoter doesn’t put on wrestling shows very often, but he doesn’t mess around when he does. He gave us Kongo Kong vs. Jeff Jarrett. He brought Sandman to The Arena, and he booked MJF hot on the heels of his All In curtain jerker with Matt Cross.

I was a bit thrown when I saw his next show is a revival of wrestling company called XCF. I’ve been following indie wrestling in Southern Indiana and Louisville for close to a decade now, and the name was not familiar to me. Turns out XCF has a history that is truly inspiring.

It all started with a bunch of kids who wanted to be professional wrestlers putting on shows – where else? – in the backyard. One of the founders was also one of the best kept secrets in indie wrestling, The Iron Demon Shane Mercer.

“We originally called the company ECF,” says Mercer. “E from ECW, C from WCW, and F from WWF. We originally started on a ground with a base, moved to a trampoline, and then to an actual ring. We even had a cage set up at one time.”

The ECF guys merged their backyard fed with another started by Aidan Blackhart. The new group changed its name to XCF, and the homegrown shows continued even as many of its founding members began wrestling professionally.

“The style we wrestled is everywhere now, but it was frowned upon at the time,” says Mercer. “We felt the freedom in XCF to do things our way.”

XCF connected with other small companies and produced super shows. They had an annual “Wrestlemania” type event they called Last Rites. They held their own awards banquet at the end of the year, complete with dinner and highlight reels showing the best performances in an XCF ring.

In addition to Mercer and Blackhart, XCF had a number of regulars like Satu Jinn, Alex Zayne, and Maxx Mizery. JC Bailey joined forces with them on several occasions, bringing his own crew up from Bardstown, Kentucky.

“We told ridiculous stories and had bad ass dream matches,” says Mercer. “We had so many styles, from technicians to deathmatch advocates to goofy dumb stuff and more. It brought us all closer, and we kept it going until it finally faded out around 2011-2012.”

The momentum of XCF faded, but not the memories. A place like XCF no longer felt necessary, thanks to the changing styles of indie wrestling, but Shane Mercer couldn’t shake the thought of “What If.”

Shane shared his “what if” thoughts with the right person. Terry Harper came on board, and Shane out the word out. “It blew up like I never thought possible. So many people from the past wanted to jump on board because because that electricity we felt for XCF never died.

A true XCF reunion would be impossible because more than a hundred people wrestled for them at one time or another. Shane assembled the “Originals” and teamed up with Terry to book a card loaded with indie stars: Shane Mercer, Billie Starkz, The Rejects, Team No Respect with Mad Man Pondo and Duke the Nuke, Mickie Knuckles, Aaron Williams, Gary Jay, Kongo Kong, Dan Maff, Jason Kincaid, Lord Crewe, Atticus Cogar, Chance Prophet, KTB, and a host of surprises appearing in an XCF Battle Royal.

“The card is full of bangers and badass matches,” Mercer promises. “No filler ever.”

Will XCF: Resurrection be a one night only reunion or a true rebirth? That’s up to the fans who are buzzing over the show and snapping up tickets. And Shane and Terry of course. The important thing is tickets are still available for what is sure to be one of the biggest nights of wrestling ever at The Arena.

The show takes place Friday night, November 11, at The Arena, 1416 Spring Street in Jeffersonville.

Click here to get all the scoop on XCF: Resurrection on Facebook.

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Ref Charlene a Trailblazer in the Ring

 

This story has been a long, long time coming. I’ve been friends with Charlene McKenzie for several years now. We’ve crossed paths at dozens of shows, and she’s graciously given me interviews for other stories. Now, finally, I’m happy to be sharing her story. 

Most fans in the Kentuckiana area have seen Charlene working for one promotion or another over the last twelve years, from IWA Mid-South to Girl Fight to Terry Harper Presents to Ohio Valley Wrestling, where she currently does most of her work. Few fans know her true origin story: she was born overseas, the daughter of a U.S. Army soldier and a German woman. 

“I have dual citizenship,” she told me recently. “German and American. I was born in Germany, but when my dad transferred back to the States, he brought me and my mom back with him.” 

The family lived on a few Army bases until Charlene’s parents split. At the age of seven, she moved to Florida with her mom, but by the time she was fifteen, she had moved to Kentucky to be with her dad. 

“I was always a daddy’s girl,” she says. 

Charlene was a lapsed fan when she came across wrestling on television in 2006. Her father introduced her to pro wrestling early in life, and it became her escape when she moved to a neighborhood in Florida with few kids. She hadn’t watched in several years, but a familiar face made her set down the remote control. 

“I saw Edge, and I thought, hey, this guy looks familiar,” she said. “I kept watching that night and every week, and that’s when I fell in love with it again.” 

Wrestling took hold of her for good this second time around, so much so that she started looking for a place to train. After moving back to Kentucky, she heard about a school across the river in Indiana where she could give wrestling a try. 

“The promotion was called Classic Championship Wrestling,” she says. “It was run by Marcus Snyder, who used to be at Ohio Valley Wrestling. Crybaby Chris Alexander was with them as well. I was only sixteen at the time.” 

When CCW went on hiatus, Charlene went back to being, in her words, a normal high school kid. A friend of her started training at OVW, so she started attending their weekly shows. Through her friend, she got to know a number of wrestlers at the school, but it frustrated her that they treated her like a fan. 

One day her dad came home from work at University of Louisville Hospital with the name and number of a trainer in Madison, Indiana, about 45 minutes from Louisville. Charlene contacted the guy, and she started training again. She was glad to be back in the ring, but this time around, she realized that being a wrestler was not for her. “I was not athletic enough, and I didn’t want my body to be all beat up.” 

Charlene had done enough to impress Biff Wellington, who was booking the Madison promotion at the time. He approached her and asked if she might want to try being a referee. Charlene said yes, and Biff immediately started to use her. Soon she was working for other promoters, starting with Bobo Brazil, Jr., who ran shows in nearby Austin, Indiana. 

“I was still in high school. I think I was still seventeen,” she said. “Then after high school, I met Mickie and Pondo. That’s when things really started to take off.” 

Fans of Mickie Knuckles and Mad Man Pondo know both deathmatch legends have a reputation for identifying and helping young talent. That goes for referees as well as wrestlers. Mickie and Pondo started calling Charlene any time they went on the road. She shook a lot of hands, set up a lot of chairs, and she learned to always to bring her striped shirt along for the ride. 

“Pondo has always been like a wrestling dad to me,” she says. “He’s always looking to be entertained. I got to meet Jesco White from the reality show The Wonderful Whites of West Virginia when Pondo insisted we stop by his place unannounced and uninvited. I sat in his living room.” 

Charlene was a regular face at most of the promotions in Southern Indiana when I started writing about pro wrestling back in 2014, but she wanted to work in her hometown. She wanted to get in with OVW. Her initial overtures to the promotion were ignored, in part because of some of the other promotions she had worked, but a match she called for Casey Reeves gave her a foot in the door. 

“Something happened in the match, and Casey kind of got lost,” says Charlene. “I knew something was wrong, so I called a new finish on the fly. He was a little pissed at first, but then he thought about what I had done and how I had helped. He knew I was a team player, and he appreciated my quick thinking.” 

Casey pointed Charlene in the right direction, and soon she was in contact with Adam Revolver. Adam put Charlene in some dark matches, and when she proved she was ready, she started refereeing on OVW television. 

Charlene has seen a lot of changes at OVW since her arrival. Two years into her tenure, Danny Davis sold the company to Al Snow. “Al has been incredible. He’s always available when I have a question, and he’s very hands on and involved with all of us. We’ve all learned so much from him.” 

Charlene was the second person in the ring on the night of OVW’s 1000th television episode, broadcast live from Fourth Street Live in Louisville. “That was a special night. It was one of the last live shows my dad saw before he passed away. I remember sitting with him in the crowd for episode 500.”

Even though her wrestling ambitions ended years ago, Charlene is thrilled to see how Al Snow’s arrival brought change to the OVW women’s division. “It’s a 180 degree change. There are more women and more women’s matches. He brought Amazing Maria in to oversee the women’s division, and it’s been incredible.” 

Charlene’s day job keeps her extremely busy these days, but she works OVW as often as she can and even trains in the advanced class with Doug Basham. “With the refs, they focus a lot on out positioning in the ring, knowing where the camera is. Also, we work on making sure the wrestlers stay safe. Doug’s a great teacher, and Al’s classes are amazing too.” 

It’s a far cry from the typical baptism by fire independent referees usually get. “They’re like, ‘Can you count to three? Cool. Put this shirt on and tuck it in.’” she jokes. 

Charlene continues to work with other promotions when she has the time and opportunity, including Mad Man Pondo’s Girl Fight Wrestling and the upcoming XCF show in Jeffersonville promoted by Terry Harper. “I worked my first Pride show last weekend. It was an amazing experience, working with my old friend Jimmy Feltcher and so many others from the LGBTQ community. They had a drag show in between the matches.” 

Working at OVW has also given Charlene a chance to work with Impact Wrestling, and she’s appeared on streaming and pay-per-view events for numerous promotions. Yet even if her hard work never leads to a signing with a major company, she’s incredibly grateful for the opportunities she’s had. 

“I’ve done way more than I ever expected I could accomplish,” she says. “Learning from Al. Working Jerry Lynn’s second to last match. Working with so many heroes and amazing people. I’m very proud of what I’ve done.”  

A big part of that pride comes from being a trailblazer as a woman wearing the stripes. “There weren’t that many female referees when I started, and there were none on TV. Now you see them all over. I’m definitely very proud of that.” 

Charlene McKenzie is a true professional,  a proven leader in the locker room and in the ring. She’s seen it all and done it all, from playing the blind referee who doesn’t see the misdeeds of the heels to taking the hard bump out to ring side. 

“That looked pretty real, when you hit the apron tonight,” I told her one evening. 

Nursing her elbow, she shook her head. “Yeah, that wasn’t planned.” 

All things considered, she would have been a lot more beat up as a wrestler than she is as a ref. 

You can follow Charlene on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Girl Fight Gets Royal Approval

It’s been an exciting week for me. I finally had the chance to meet my long time friend and colleague Tamaya Greenlee, and I got to spend time in person with Princess Victoria, Vicki Otis. The two of us wrote her book solely by remote, and Tuesday night’s Girl Fight show in Jeffersonville, Indiana, gave us the chance to finally hang out in person.

Girl Fight made its long-anticipated return to home base with a bang. The seven match card delivered plenty of action from start to finish, and it was great seeing some of my long-time favorites including Charlie Kruel, Ella, and Big Mama. It was also wickedly fun to see long-time fan fave and current champion Billie Starkz play a little heel in her victory over Rachel Armstrong.

Some new faces proved to be show stealers, and Sawyer Wreck was right at the top of that list. The tall Florida girl made an impression simply by the way she took the ring. Her bout with Big Boss Anika was largely played for comedy,  but everything about her work made her look like a future mega star.

Props have to go to Anika as well. The pair looked like a mismatch with Wreck dwarfing the Russian big mouth, but Anika played her role to perfection. I really look forward to seeing more from both ladies.

Mickie Knuckles and Masha Slamovich delivered a No DQ match that was everything you wanted it to be – at least in the Arena, where blood is a no-no. I’ve often said of The Rejects (John Wayne Murdoch and Reed Bentley) that their work looks more like a fight than sports entertainment, and that’s a great way to describe Mickie vs. Masha. The slaps, the strikes, and the hits were very real. Masha’s constant ranting in Russian paired nicely with Mickie’s “I don’t know what the —- you’re saying!” banter.

Mickie even brought Princess Victoria into the action, attempting to slingshot Masha into the Princess’s extended foot. Masha reversed the move, and Mickie ate the foot, taking out my sales banner in the process.

“She really hit me!” The Princess said over her shoulder. “I like her!”

Yes, happy to say, the Princess was enchanted by the entire Girl Fight crew. She happened to come on a night the promotion had long dreamed about; the wrestlers, referees, ring announcer, and commentary team were all ladies for the first time ever. The Princess loved it, and she loved each and every one of the girls.

The majority of the ladies took full advantage of her being there, asking for an receiving critique. The Princess praised the uniqueness of every gimmick (“No two of them are the same!”) and their gimmicks (“Is she selling koozies?”)  What’s more, she was thrilled to see how the promotion and its founder, Mad Man Pondo, truly cared for the girls. She was impressed enough, she’s decided to make an effort to come back June 14 for their next Jeffersonville show.

Girl Fight has a long legacy of giving rising stars a platform. It’s amazing to see that opportunity spread from the locker room to the announce table, and the current roster is as good as it’s ever been. If you’re in the area, you won’t want to miss the next edition in June. And you might just get a second chance to meet Princess Victoria for yourself. 

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Deathmatch Worldwide Serves Wrestlers and Fans the World Over

Corey Higdon was ten years old when he saw his first deathmatch on a VHS tape. From that moment on, he could not get enough.

The road to Deathmatch Worldwide was a difficult one. For many years, he wanted to do something to promote and support the extreme side of pro wrestling. A few years ago, he was out of work, needing back surgery, and struggling to make ends meet. “I had wanted to do something like Deathmatch Worldwide since I was sixteen years old,” he says. “It got to a point where I didn’t have a choice. It took me almost twenty years, but I knew if I was ever going to go for it, I had to do it now.”

Higdon, now 35, opened a company called Double Hell Wrestling Club in 2018, producing one off custom shirts via pre-order. At the time he offered shirts that appealed to a wider audience than just the deathmatch crowd. The company was a hit, but his long term goal remained the same: a platform for deathmatch wrestlers to sell their own merchandise.

After Double Hell became a success, Corey invested a great deal of money in his own T-shirt printing equipment, building a T-shirt shop in his own house. “It was a big investment, but the people I bought it all from were going fly someone in to train me and everything. Then Covid hit, and that all went away.”

Corey didn’t let the virus set him back. Through trial and error, he taught himself how to use the new equipment, all while keeping Double Hell Wrestling going. Finally, in February of 2021, he opened the Deathmatch Worldwide store. “It got so busy so fast, I couldn’t keep up with both companies,” he says. “Both companies were run very differently, but I couldn’t keep up with both. Double Hell was a big success, but I had to shut it down to focus on Deathmatch Worldwide.”

Deathmatch Worldwide began with just a handful of stars attached, guys Corey personally knew like Mad Man Pondo, John Wayne Murdoch, and Reed Bentley. In less than a year it’s grown to more than 80, and it truly has become worldwide. “I ship all over the world, and I sell shirts for wrestlers for all over the world. Guys like Mad Man Pondo had a lot to do with that, opening doors for me.”

The hardest part has been earning the trust of the wrestlers, especially the guys from overseas. “The Japanese wrestlers don’t want to do business with guys in the US because they’re used to US fans stealing from them. People do it all the time. They steal openly. They bottled everything. I’ve never understand that mindset of, ‘I’m such a fan of this guy, I’m going to bootleg his stuff and pocket all the money.’ I just don’t get that.”

Corey admits he had done the same thing with two wrestlers at the start of Double Hell Wrestling, Kevin Sullivan and Bruiser Brody. “I realized I was doing the same thing that I got pissed at the people for doing. I decided that, if it took me ten years, I was going to track them down and pay them what they were owed.” Corey was able to contact both Kevin Sullivan and Barbara Goodish, Brody’s widow. “I paid them what I would have paid any other wrestler. I told them I was sorry and that I wanted to do right by them. As a result, I became friends with both of them. I sold Brody’s shirts when I was doing Double Hell, and I still sell Kevin’s shirts on Deathmatch Worldwide.”

Corey knew that hard work and honest business would win people over, and it has. Word of mouth from the wrestlers continues to grow his platform. He recently open stores for FMW-E Wrestling and Atsushi Onita. He’s also running shops for Mitsuhiro Matsunaga and, with the blessing of his family, the late Mr. Pogo.

Doing right by the wrestlers remains paramount every day. “Every wrestler in my store is there by request, and I pay the wrestlers as much as I can.” He makes enough that he’s now running the shop as his full-time job, and it’s still growing.

Corey does right by the fans too, in ways most companies don’t. He’s been shipping worldwide since the store started, and he also offers shirt sizes all the way up to 5X.

Deathmatch Worldwide is open 24/7 and offering new shirts every day. Each shirt is custom printed to order. With the shop being a one man operation (for now), it may sometimes take a while to get your order. Rest assured, it will be printed and shipped with the utmost care and attention to detail. You can find shirts from Akira, Alex Colon, Dale Patricks, G-Raver, Manders, Mance Warner, Matt Tremont, Mickie Knuckles, Necro Butcher, Sage Sinn, Shlak, Tank, and dozens more.

Deathmatch Worldwide is also open to new deathmatch wrestlers looking for a place to sell to their fans. You can find information on how to apply, as well as shop their ever growing selection at www.deathmatchworldwide.com

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Masters of Pain Caps Off Great Weekend at IWA East Coast

It’s been twenty months since I took a road trip to see professional wrestling, and IWA East Coast broke the Covid-enforced moratorium with a bang this past weekend. The promotion hosted three shows from Friday through Saturday, and the entire weekend was a blast.

IWA East Coast hosted their festivities at Skateland, a roller rink set up inside an old elementary school just southeast of downtown Charleston, West Virginia. The decor along the two story walls surrounding the rink included playful graffiti, billiards tables and accessories, and high up in one corner, a life-size replica of Michael Myers, complete with butcher’s knife.

“To me, this building represents all of West Virginia,” said one local on Saturday afternoon. “You have all this fun stuff, and then, a little bit of creepiness.”

Made sense to me. Earlier that day I made the obligatory one hour trek to Point Pleasant to see the Mothman Museum and statue. Yes, it’s absolutely worth the extra time and your $4.50 admission. (You will spend more in the shop. Trust me!)

Back to the wrestling. The action began Friday night when eight men took part in the Zero G Crown Tournament, including Kincaid, Facade, Gary Jay, Aaron Williams, and Jake Crist. The first round match up between Crist and Williams alone made the trip worthwhile for me, but the entire evening was full of great action.

Third generation wrestler Malcolm Monroe III came into the building as an unknown, but by the end of the evening, everyone was chanting “Three! Three! Three!” Host Mad Man Pondo hyped the kid up in his first major event outside his home state of Michigan. Odds are he’s going to be doing a lot more traveling in the near future.

Fans dumped plenty of hate on Jake Crist, who heeled it up all night long as he sailed through the brackets. At one point the crowd split with a “Let’s go Jake Crist / Dave is better chant.” The former Impact star proved he deserves to still be on someone’s roster, and he took home a giant trophy to add to his resume.

Saturday afternoon, the ladies of Girl Fight took center stage. Fans were treated to two great opening matches featuring Girl Fight regulars Charlie Kruel, Mickie Knuckles, Nikki Victory, and Big Mama.  A lesser known competitor named Shayla Hyde put the Girl Fight fans on notice when she hit a 619 on the Black Widow Harley Fairfax. The crowd popped big, and Shayla scored a huge upset.

Another new face who impressed was young Judi-Rae Hendrix from Lexington, Kentucky. I met Judi on Friday night, when she picked up a copy of Tracy Smothers’ book and told me she was training with Bobby Blaze. Having not met her before, I was surprised to see Hendrix in the main event slot with newly crowned Girl Fight champion Billie Starkz. Hendrix quickly showed she belonged, going toe to toe with Starkz and earning a “This is awesome” chant after hitting the champ with a Canadian Destroyer.

Starkz got the win, but fans definitely took note of Hendrix and her tenacity. This is another young lady to watch in the coming years!

Saturday evening was the Masters of Pain deathmatch tournament, featuring eight of the best deathmatch artists in the world: Shlak, Shane Mercer, John Wayne Murdoch, Akira, Jimmy Lloyd, G Raver, Alex Colon, and Nolan Edwards. To be honest I am not a deathmatch guy, but I have endless respect for the men and women who do these types of matches. I also firmly believe that some of the deathmatch specialists are among the very best wrestlers in the world, period.

I’ve often said you could take John Wayne Murdoch, put him in a time machine, and drop him in Memphis or Mid-South during their hey day. A number of the guys competing with him Saturday night would do equally well in that sci-fi scenario.

The show was fun and frenetic from start to finish, but the match that had everyone buzzing in the building and online was the second round clash between Shane Mercer and Akira. Why Mercer is not signed to a major company is beyond me. His combination of power and athleticism are unmatched on the indies. Mercer and Akira dueled it out in a shower of glass shards and fluorescent lights with big flips and power moves throughout. Akira outlasted Mercer, and afterwards, Mercer took a moment on the mic to honor the student who had just bested one of his teachers.

The evening came to a grand finale when Akira and Nolan Edwards entered a ring filled with fan-made weapons to fight for the Masters of Pain trophy. The boys made use of everything from a door covered in barbed wire to a preschool baseball bat covered in glass Christmas ornaments. That said, it was the garbage can full of light tubes that stole the show. The boys began trading head shots, one after another, faster and faster, as if determined not to leave a single bulb unbroken. The flurry of popping glass had the fans on their feet, stomping and screaming for more. The night ultimately belonged to Akira, who bested his close friend and brother Nolan Edwards to win the tournament.

IWA East Coast plans to bring back Masters of Pain next year. If they do it up like these did this year, I highly recommend fans making the trip. The hospitality is warm and friendly. The local flavor is fun. And as I already mentioned, the Mothman is only an hour away… although Mad Man Pondo swears he heard the creature in his hotel room Friday night.

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Mickie Knuckles Triumphs at Night of the Living Girl Fight

There were sixteen ladies booked for the October 2020 edition of Girl Fight Wrestling. Five canceled due to Covid-19, and one had to bail last minute due to a family emergency. The ten ladies that remained put on one of the best shows in the promotion’s history.

I missed independent wrestling like crazy over the last nine months, but I can honestly say if I had to go another nine months without an indy show, this one would hold me over. Top to bottom, it was one of the most entertaining nights of pro wrestling I’ve ever attended.

The great action started with the very first bout when Hawlee Cromwell took on Arie Alexander. Alexander was a new face, and the girl with sunflowers all over her wrestling gear proved to be a very equal match for Cromwell. Alexander won over some fans and took the match from the Girl Fight veteran.

Next up was the much anticipated Jeffersonville debut of Heather Reckless against another diminutive grappler Valentina Loca. Loca made enemies of the crowd with her loud mouth and smart aleck comments right from the start while Reckless stole the heart of every child in attendance. The Seth Rollins trainee quickly won over the older fans as well with her wrestling and submission skills. Loca and Reckless were great from start to finish, where Reckless claimed a win over the brash girl from New Mexico.

Blair Onyx entered the ring next followed by her challenger, the masked Pizza Cat, Jr., aka fan favorite Billie Starkz. After silencing a few smart marks in the back of the room with her death stare, Onyx struck fear in the heart of poor Pizza Cat by bending backwards into a bridge and crawling like a spider toward her feline foe. It was impressive to watch the young Starkz/Pizza Cat put on a different persona in the ring, but Onyx was equally impressive with her acrobatic skills and flexibility. In the end the cat beat the spider as Pizza Cat got the pin.

The last match before intermission was a grudge match between Mickie Knuckles and Charlie Kruel. Still fuming from the last Girl Fight show when Kruel cost Knuckles a victory against Susie, Mickie took the fight to Kruel. Mickie’s humor was back in full force as well. “You’re crazier than I am, and that’s REALLY saying something,” she told Kruel early in the match. Mickie later made everyone question who the crazy one was by picking Charlie’s nose and feeding her the booger. Then after a slow count from the referee, Mickie warned the official, “You’re getting licked tonight. I don’t care if there’s Covid!” Knuckles got her revenge, winning a hard-hitting contest.

Only one match remained after intermission, and that was the Broad Brawl for the vacated Girl Fight Championship. Heather Reckless and Billie Starkz started off the Girl Fight version of the Royal Rumble, and a new competitor joined in every 30 seconds until 10 ladies total had entered. In addition to Onyx, Cromwell, Loca, Knuckles, Alexander, and Kruel, the ladies were joined by Hannah Henderson and Larry D’s wife Paige.

All ten ladies made it into the ring before the eliminations began. Heather Reckless was the first to go, followed by Valentina Loca, Arie Alexander, Blair Onyx, Hannah Henderson, and Paige. Charlie Kruel then shocked the fans by tossing Billie Starkz over the top rope, leaving Kruel and Cromwell to face the only former champion in the match, Mickie Knuckles.

Twice, Cromwell and Kruel made a run at Knuckles trying to knock her over the top rope. On the second attempt, Mickie pulled down the top rope and gave the younger ladies a nudge. The bell sounded, and Mickie Knuckles became the two time Girl Fight Champion.

I can’t say enough about how hard the ladies fought tonight. This is a must-see event when it hits streaming and DVD for anyone who loves Girl Fight or women’s wrestling in general.

Girl Fight’s next event is yet to be announced, but Mad Man Pondo teased the possibility of a Midnight Girl Fight show the night before Thanksgiving. If past years are any indicator, it will be a raucous crowd and another great night of women’s action should it come to pass.

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Susie Surprises and Terrifies at Girl Fight

I’ve seen Su Yung of Impact Wrestling in action twice before. Once on a show for Terry Harper, when she ended up in the lap of my seventeen year-old nephew, and once at Girl Fight. I was as disappointed as anyone last night when Impact Wrestling star Susie appeared for the main event go against Mickie Knuckles, but that disappointment gave way to terror as Susie took the ring and Mickie reacted to the surprise appearance.

It’s a shame Susie’s run with Impact has not played out in front of a live audience because I can tell you first hand, there’s something disturbing and ominous about her. Every time Mickie would put Susie on the ground and her face would be obscured for a time, you expected her to push the long, black hair out of her face and reveal the visage of Su Yung. That Su never appeared didn’t matter. The threat never went away, even after ref Charlene called for the bell and disqualified Mickie (thanks to some dubious intervention on Charlie Kruel’s part). Susie came in with her little girl wave and left with the same innocent wave, but she put a chill in the fans that packed the Park Place UMC gymnasium tonight.

Yes, Girl Fight Wrestling is back, and tonight’s event in a six-sided ring drew cheers from beginning to end. The evening began with Lily Lockhart defeating Bailey McRoberts and Megan DiFrancisco defeating Hannah Henderson. New comer Henderson made a big impression on the fans, many of whom crowded around her gimmick table at both intermissions to say hello. DiFrancisco made the opposite impression, angering fans with a big mouth and a bad attitude. She made you hate her in all the right ways.

The first part of the show concluded with the masked Seishin (formerly Tootie Lynn Ramsey) facing the dark Hawlee Cromwell. One of the joys of following this promotion is watching young wrestlers grow and develop. Seishin and Cromwell are part of the current “generation” growing up before our eyes, and their high energy battle could have main evented many independent shows I’ve attended. They won’t be occupying the first half of the show much longer.

The second portion of the show kicked off with another vocal heel, Nikki Victory, facing the returning Big Mama. Big Mama was even more vocal than Nikki, and while she is used to playing heel in her home promotion of NWF in Ohio, she reminded fans why they loved her before taking a break to have a baby. Nikki was a game adversary, but Big Mama powered her way to her first ever Girl Fight win.

The next match featured another of the current Girl Fight class’s signature stars, Charlie Kruel in a match against Salena Dean. Kruel’s psycho killer character has evolved from a one dimensional screamer to a personality that’s part Susie, part A.J. Lee, part Festus, and even a touch of U-Gene. She’s gleeful and wants to be friends – at least, she says she does. But the psycho killer comes out to play once the action starts, along with the piercing scream. Charlie took the win over Salena tonight and skipped away, waving to her friends in the crowd.

Next up was Skye Blue from Chicago facing the youngest and arguably the most popular star in Girl Fight, Billie Starkz. Starkz eats, sleeps, breathes, and dreams pro wrestling. It’s in her blood, and it permeates every part of her. She has an infectious smile and a playfulness that connects with the fans. She also continues to blossom on the ring, adding new weapons to her arsenal with each outing. Most fans believe they’re seeing a future mega star every time she takes the ring. Enjoy her while she’s here, folks. The tickets to see her will be much pricier in a few years.

I’ve often said that the Mickie Knuckles/ Dementia D’Rose vs. Amazing Maria/ Samantha Heights tag team match in Fort Wayne a few years back was my favorite live match of all time. I still stand by that statement, even after tonight, but for a time, Mickie Knuckles and Susie threatened to overtake that spot.

I already gushed about Susie’s character and the way she holds you in the palm of her hands, asking the question, “Will she or won’t she turn into Su Yung?” That said, I can’t overstate Mickie Knuckles’ role in the match. Mickie’s the veteran, a Chris Hero student turned locker room leader and teacher, and there’s a reason fans like me will never miss a match of hers if we can help it. Usually Mickie entertains with one liners, comedy spots, and a little – not make that a lot of referee abuse. That made her reaction to Susie all the more real. Mickie wasn’t about the jokes tonight. She was scared. She didn’t know how to handle Susie or even what to make of her. Susie acted creepy. Mickie made it feel real.

Sadly, we did not get a clean finish to what was otherwise a very entertaining main event. Charlie Kruel skipped to the ring while ref Charlene was out, found a folding chair, and gave Susie a whack on the back with it. She then laid the chair beside Mickie, just as Charlene came to. Those darn refs never believe the babyfaces when they say they’ve been framed, and Charlene disqualified Mickie in favor of Susie.

Susie kept us watching as she rose off the mat, her face obscured by her hair once more like the little girl from The Ring. But when she brushed her hair back to thank Mickie for the match, it was still creepy Susie and not Su Yung whose face we saw. Mickie demanded a match with Charlie, and Mad Man Pondo agreed to give it to her on the next show.

Mickie and Charlie will face off on October 17 at the same venue, Park Place UMC in Jeffersonville. Girl Fight will also present a battle royal-type match that will crown a new Girl Fight champion that evening. Oh yeah, and we will finally see the Girl Fight debut of Heather Reckless on the 17th. I’ve been singing her praises to Pondo and anyone else who will listen since seeing her in action at Cauliflower Alley Club in April of 2019. Fans, you’re in for a treat.

Head to www.girlfightwrestling.com to get all the info about the next show and find out how to order tickets.

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Girl Fight Returns September 26!

One of my favorite promotions is back, and I am finally going to see some live wrestling in two weeks!

Things were looking a little rough for Girl Fight Wrestling, even before the pandemic shut the wrestling world down. A monster card planned in January was canceled under somewhat suspicious circumstances. “Dad Man” Pondo was understandably discouraged, and many of the Girl Fight faithful were left wondering if they would ever run another show.

Eight months later, Girl Fight is reloaded and ready to go. The promotion that gave a boost to many current WWE, AEW, and Impact stars will host “Jawbreaker” on Saturday night, September 26 at Park Memorial UMC in Jeffersonville. Fans will see rising stars who are already Girl Fight favorites including Billie Starkz, Charlie Kruel, Hawlee Cromwell, Seishin, and Big Mama. They will meet new faces like Megan Difrancisco, Camron Bra’nae, and Bailey McRoberts.

And the main event? Oh, it’s a good one.

Mickie Knuckles vs. Su Yung.

If you know the names, you know how good this one’s going to be. Impact and Girl Fight fans already know how good Su Yung (aka Susie) can be. And Mickie? She only steals the show any time she makes an appearance at Girl Fight.

The good news is Girl Fight’s in a new venue with more room than ever before at a Southern Indiana show. The bad news is capacity is limited. (Stupid Covid.) The even worse news? Front row is gone, and the remaining general admission tickets are selling fast.

Head to www.girlfightwrestling.com to find out how to order tickets before it’s too late!

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Faces to Watch the Second Half of 2017

2017 has been an amazing year in independent wrestling. Half way through the year, Billy Corgan has assumed control of the NWA, Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force has overtaken Impact, and NJPW has begun its conquest of America.

It’s been a spectacular year at all levels of independent wrestling. Here are a few names and faces you need to be watching as we enter the second half of the year.

NICK DEPP

Nick Depp began the year by winning The Prince of the Deathmatches – and promptly found himself on the sidelines nursing an injury. The temporary set back hasn’t slowed him down  a bit. “The Sports Entertainer” is expanding his territory and gaining new ground not only due to his in-ring work, but his skills on the mic. Depp cuts an amazing promo as a face but especially as a heel. His mouth is going to take him far.

ALEX DANIELS

“The Real Ben Affleck” is the talk of the independent wrestling podcasts, and with good reason. Take away the Ben Affleck gimmick, he is one of the brightest and most talented workers in the Midwest. One observer told me privately he thinks Daniels will be in Ring of Honor in just a few years. The Ohio native is expanding his territory as well, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his big break.

MICKIE KNUCKLES

Mickie is no rookie. She’s been around for 17 years, breaking ground the WWE’s women are only now beginning to tread. Mickie has caught fire in 2017. She headlined a spectacular main event in Ft. Wayne covered in my blog back in April for Girl Fight. She and Randi West stirred controversy in Southern Indiana with a brutal falls count anywhere match. To top it all off, she just won the OVW Women’s Championship. This is Mickie’s year, and no one can stop her.

AMAZING MARIA

A Canadian transplant working out of Louisville, Kentucky, Amazing Maria is one of the most under-rated women in the women’s scene. Her skills in the ring are solid, and her character work as a heel improve with every outing. Whether she’s on her own, paired with Samantha Heights, or partnered with Horrorshow manager Jason Saint, Amazing Maria is a stand out on every show.

OI4K

I’ve been a fan of the Crist brothers, Dave and Jake, ever since they yanked the tag titles away from Aaron Williams and Ron Mathis at D1W a few years ago. Not only have they become regulars at IWA Mid-South, they’re making appearances for PWG in Los Angeles. Dave Crist has had an exceptional year, despite some injuries, having won the IWA Mid-South Championship and CZW’s Best of the Best 2017. A fellow wrestler told me he doesn’t think they’ll be exclusive to the Midwest for long. I couldn’t agree more.

INDY CARD MAFIA

The tag team of Thomas Brewington and Eric Emanon is starting to make deep inroads in the South and the Midwest. They put the southern territories on notice a few weeks ago when they invaded Atlanta’s AWE and shocked everyone by earning a victory over the red hot Carnies (another must see tag team, I might add). “Do we have your attention now?” Emanon asked on Facebook. Yes, sir, you do.

THE HITMAN FOR HIRE MR. GRIM

Mr. Grim is something special. His combination of speed, power, and high-flying make him a must-see attraction, but that’s not the reason you want to see this man live. You want to know what’s in the briefcase. You want to see what happens when the Hitman for Hire claims a victim. Grim is coming, and he’s headed your way sooner than you think.

KONGO KONG

Kong has already made the leap from indy darling to TV star, and his star’s about to get brighter. Kongo Kong was one of Jeff Jarrett’s early signees for Global Force Wrestling. Now, with GFW taking over and Jarrett firmly in control, there is no stopping the big man.

Please note: This is by no means a comprehensive list of the up and coming rising stars in independent wrestling. If you have a favorite you want to add to this list, please comment below. Let’s let the casual wrestling fans of the world know why they need to tune in to independent wrestling.