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  1. Thankfully (Devon) Storm is going by the name 'Salem' here, otherwise this was going to get tricky... his gimmick here is a fairly low rent cult leader. Storm meanwhile was getting a decent push in XPW, which would be the only US run he would get in his career, so it's a shame - for him - that the company would only limp on for another month. Early on Salem tries to use his strength and size advantage, which is a simple story to tell, but given this is 2003, they can't help but crowbar (if you excuse the pun) in some typical indie reversal and standoff sequences. Once they've got that out of the way, Salem does start to dominate. Storm sells for large parts, which in front of a normal crowd would hopefully have elicited good sympathy but in front of a rather indifferent XPW crowd in a weird dirtbike/skate park doesn't really get much of a reaction. The brutal looking wheelbarrow he takes into a guardrail deserved more. Given the environment the match goes to the outside and that allows Storm to get a great rana off the entrance way. Everytime he tries to get that momentum however, Salem is able to take over with a big move. Storm takes some nasty bumps which does manage to drag the crowd into being invested, although is off his game offensively. A through line of the match is that Storm doesn't have the power to take Salem over with his usual array of ranas and keeps getting caught, but despite that Salem can't put him away. Because of this, Salem calls for his follower Altar Boy Luke to interfere, but he botches that to cost him the win despite dominating most of the match. There's some decent action here - I've always like Devon Storm/Crowbar - but they seem to run out of ideas midway through. (Jonny) Storm wasn't presented as much of a threat, which is odd given that in his other XPW appearances he'd been pushed well, so his win here comes across as a fluke rather than him being resilient and battling out a victory. (** 1/2)
  2. Storm had beaten Jerry Lynn the previous night to get a shot at Kaos' XPW TV Title. He looks great early on, getting lots of shine and flustering Kaos. Given he had only had a couple of appearances in the company (and a only a few in the US) Storm is really over with the crowd. Kaos is athletic and can hit big spots, but feels like a rich man's backyarder whenever I've seen him - he doesn't really do transitions, and also doesn't act too well as a base here, meaning that some of the sequences come off looking a little rough. As was the way with Kaos matches at the time there is way too much outside interference (think the RVD/Bill Alfonso dynamic with the volume turned up) from GQ Money (the future NXT producer Ryan Katz). Speaking of which, Bill Alfonso is actually the 'trouble shooting ref' on the outside here to try and counter that interference, however it just ends up being another factor that overwhelms the match. As you would imagine, there's lots of early 2000s indie style exchanges, and not at the top end of that style either, with no real rhyme or reason behind what they are doing. Storm is a better technical wrestler than just the highflying he gets to do here, but Kaos doesn't show much appetite to want to do anything other than a spotfest. Although to his credit, he does hit all his big spots well. Down the stretch there is a good nearfall off a Storm top rope DDT, but then the match ends rather abruptly with Kaos hitting a piledriver for the win. If they had just gone pure spotfest then this probably would've been more exciting, but with all the stuff on the outside, there was just too much going on. (** 1/4)
  3. This is part of Storm’s brief run with XPW, which came about due to a working agreement with the FWA and resulted in the creation of the XPW European Title (a ‘title’ which would last longer than XPW and be defended in the FWA…well, a briefcase claiming to have the title in would be…). This is No. 1 contenders match for the XPW TV Title and came about due to a double pin in a 4-way No. 1 contenders match at the previous show. We open with some standard mid 2000s indie standoff stuff, but its more measured than usual, and there’s some decent chain wrestling going on. Lynn is a good base for Storm in this match and allows him to get over with the crowd by basing for his high flying. The early exchanges are good at helping put Storm over to the crowd at the ECW Arena that would have come in perceiving Lynn to be the bigger star. There’s lots of fun sequences in this, and the match manages to avoid devolving into full on spot fest territory. Both guys are faces, so the simple story is Storm trying to stick and move, while Lynn is able to counter some of Jonny’s high flying as the more powerful of the two. Lynn was very good at this point, coming off his great early TNA run in 2002, and this is a sort of budget version of his matches with AJ Styles from around this time (which is no way an insult, as those matches were great). Storm ends up getting the win with a wheelbarrow DDT, and while it may be went a little long with a few too many kickouts at the end, this is a good match. It shows the strength of his performance, that while Storm came in as the underdog, there’s a really decent pop when he wins. It’s a shame for Jonny that this is the one time in his career that he was getting a decent push with a US company, and that the company ends up going out of business a couple of months later. (*** ½)
  4. This is an FWA dream match, given it’s got the ‘three musketeers’ of the early 2000s BritWres scene, and arguably the most prominent import that the company would use (at least up to this point). Doug and Jody are the two top faces in the company, while Storm is the hot heel, and Daniels had held the FWA British Title earlier in the year. Then there’s the interconnecting storylines; Daniels had won the title in a three way with Doug and Jody, Doug had then beat Daniels for the belt, Jonny and Jody are of course long term allies turned rivals with Jonny turning on Jody earlier in the year and then Daniels had recently won the final match in the FWA vs ROH series at the Frontiers of Honor show…by beating Jody…thanks to interference from Jonny… just great stuff in terms of interweaving everything that the company was really good at doing at this point. Despite the ‘dream match’ vibe, the opening minutes are full of stooging and stalling, and you wonder if this is down to the setting – this isn’t an FWA ‘A show’, and I’m not sure they would’ve wrestled it the same way if not on one of their tour shows with a more kids and family crowd. That’s probably why it’s all a bit pantomime at the start. Once we get into things though, they pick up nicely, and there’s some really fast paced and smooth exchanges between Daniels/Fleisch and Williams/Storm. I also liked how Storm was desperate to avoid Fleisch until he could cheap-shot him on the outside and take over. Considering I’m not sure how many times, if at all, they would’ve teamed up, Daniels and Storm work really well together and both take turns utilising lots of tricks and shortcuts which helps to build the heat before heel miscommunication leads to a fired-up Williams hot tag. I adore Doug as a wrestler and doing this FWA rewatch is really making me see his fire and intensity, when previously I used to think he could be a bit cold and mechanical at times. This all builds up to a great sequence between Williams and Storm that ends with a revolution DDT for a near fall. The four guys do well to largely keep to the classic tag structure before we get to the home stretch and the big moves, which makes those mean more. A criticism I would have, is that while Jonny and Jody going through their usual sequences is always fantastic to watch, the feud they were building was meant to be more about hatred and I didn’t feel that here, but again, maybe that’s down to the setting and not being a ‘main show’ for the company. The ending comes when Fleisch catches Daniels with a flash pin, sending the crowd home happy and also giving Jody some payback for losing twice in big matches in the FWA to him. This is a good match, but you feel on a regular show it would be more balls to the wall and could've been a classic. (*** ¼)
  5. We are in the Walthamstow Assembly Halls in London, and this is a quarter final match in the XPW European Title Tournament. For more info on that tournament should you have a particular need to fall asleep, I’ve written about it in the link above. Juvi would be a semi-regular for the FWA in the first part of 2003, and is representing XPW in the tournament. For someone that at this time was bouncing around a load of different companies, he looks really smooth and polished, and it’s good to see Jonny raise his game to keep up with someone with the talent and experience that Juvi has. The opening exchanges are really fun with a nice hybrid of Lucha, traditional British wrestling and the modern (well, modern for 2003) indie highspot style. There are lots of parity spots early on, which some may roll their eyes at given the ubiquity of that at the time, but it establishes the similar styles and game plan each is coming in with, and everything is done at speed and is on point. Juvi is the first to get more aggressive, with a nice flurry ending with a slingshot crossbody to the outside. Storm at this time could be a really sympathetic babyface with his wiry frame and the way he took moves which looked like it was breaking him in half. Both guys are essentially faces, but Juvi being the slightly bigger guy, and harder hitter works most of the middle portion of the match on top, building heat rather than letting it slip into too much of a back and forth which can often happen with indie cruiserweight style matches. Storm for his part is really good with his hope spots, timing them nicely to keep the crowd invested and onside. And that’s the main theme for a lot of the match; Jonny looking to stick and move and hang in there, while Juvy is the more aggressive, trying to unleash some big bombs like a torture rack powerbomb to break up any bits of momentum that Storm is able to get. As I say, while both were faces here, both are also known for being cocky and showoffs, and I liked that this played into the match with Juvi getting caught going up top after a nasty looking DVD where he could’ve had the pin, but instead was looking to hit a flashier move from the top. There’s a couple of great nearfalls with Juvi powering out of Storm’s patented rewind rana and then Jonny surviving a Juvi Driver to show his toughness. It’s in going for a second Juvi Driver that Storm manages to counter with a roll up for the win. This was really good, with the two guys meshing nicely, and Storm really brought his A game following up a strong end to 2002. The match is worked at a fast pace, but there’s also times where the guys let the action breathe, and Storm in particular is great at selling the beatdown he is getting for a lot of the match. I liked the desperation roll up ending, showing that Jonny was able to survive all the punishment and was able to take advantage when Juvi got cocky going for the second Juvi Driver. Good stuff here. (*** ½)
  6. This is for the FWA All England Title. Zebra Kid is coming in as the reigning champion, while Storm is coming in fresh off beating AJ Styles at British Uprising I a couple of weeks before this. Storm offers a handshake to start, but ZK responds with a slap and the two guys go at it while the ref is still trying to get the belt to officially start the match. That sets the tone nicely for what is essentially a 10 minute sprint with both guys going balls to the wall. There isn’t much selling, including Storm essentially just popping up right after a piledriver (which was confusing as this was banned move in the FWA) to go up top for a springboard drop kick, but there is lots of intensity as both guys empty a lot of their arsenals of moves. These two guys always had decent chemistry, and you get that nice contrast between Storm trying to take things to the air with a hurucunrana and moonsault from the top, while Zebra Kid brings plenty of strikes and kicks. I say this a lot in reviewing Zebra Kid matches – while he isn’t the most refined of wrestlers, I love the fire and energy he brings to his matches. The closing stretch sees Storm trying to go to the top, given that’s his most likely to route to victory, only to get crotched by Zebra pushing the ref into the ropes. Zebra Kid then hits his Zebra Crossing (top rope elbow) for the win. Post-match ZK starts to beatdown Jonny, only to get run off by James Tighe who earlier on in the night had become the new No. 1 contender to the title. (** ¾)
  7. This match is for the FWA All England Title (the FWA’s IC equivalent belt). Zebra Kid had started the Tour as champion, had lost the belt to Chris Hamrick as part of the tour, who had in turn lost it to Jonny Storm, also as part of the tour. So Zebra Kid is coming in as the challenger here. The British Breakout Tour had been designed to help expand the FWA out of its regular markets, with the multiple title changes a tactic of drawing up local interest in other parts of the county. That could also be seen by the fact the FWA Tag Titles also changed hands on this show and then changed back again the next night on the last leg of the tour. Spoiler alert: with the title ending up back where we started on the Zebra Kid, it allowed them to effectively reset as they got back to their ‘regular’ shows. On a little trivia note, this night of the tour was back in the FWA’s original home base of Portsmouth but would be the last time the company would ever run the town. As might be expected, this is an all action match between the two, with little let up. Initially Storm manages to frustrate ZK with his quickness, until Zebra manages to use his aggressive style and being unafraid to put his body on the line to take control. Given his strength is brawling, I liked that he was always trying to throw Jonny to the outside and take it to the floor, while Storm was always trying to increase the pace which is his strong suit – it makes for a nice dynamic and storyline through the match. As is very much the way in indie matches, there’s a lot of back and forth, and I think that if Zebra Kid had managed to have a longer control/heat section it really would’ve helped Jonny’s comebacks get that little more steam and impact. Overall there is good fire and intensity from both - they don’t treat this as more of a ‘b show’ given it wasn’t one of the FWA’s more in canon main shows – and there’s a nice finish with Storm leaping to the top only to get German suplexed off the top. (***)
  8. We are on night 6 of the British Breakout Tour, which I’ve described in more detail here. Earlier on the tour, Hamrick had defeated the Zebra Kid for the FWA All England Title, so this is title vs title, with Jonny’s ‘prestigious’ XPW European Title also on the line. In storyline terms, Jonny was fresh off turning heel on Jody Fleisch, but given this isn’t your usual hardcore FWA crowd and probably only a tiny fraction of the crowd probably would’ve been up-to-date with all the company’s angles, Storm wrestles 100% babyface here. Hamrick tries the same stooging as in his match with Doug Williams earlier on the tour, but it works better here, matching up with Jonny’s more over the top character. Storm plays a good face in peril, keeping the crowd engaged with nice hope spots. Compared to Hamrick’s match with Doug Williams this is more of an all action, indie spot style contest, with big moves and fast sequences, including Jonny being vaulted onto the basketball hoop in the sports centre they are in and turning it into a rana. They spectacularly blow one of Jonny’s trademark rewind ranas, but Hamrick manages to win the crowd back into things with two sick looking piledrivers, including a sit down tombstone, Owen Hart/Steve Austin Summerslam 97 style. I chose to write off the logic gap of the piledriver being banned under FWA rules by thinking to myself that as it’s also for an XPW Title so it’s cross promotional rules (not that I was thinking far too much into a random match from 17 years ago or anything…). After a good series of nearfalls from both guys, Storm picks up both titles with a rana from the top. These two have good chemistry (they wrestle again later in the year at Hotwired) and match up well, and it ends in a nice gentlemanly handshake. It doesn’t fit with the fact that the company was just starting to promote Jonny as it’s new top heel but it’s a decent match! (***)
  9. This is a No. 1 contenders match for the FWA British Title, and part of the overarching Old School vs New School storyline in the FWA. Storm is the young up and comer, while Richards was a former champion who had been with the company since the beginning. The storyline for the night was that the Old School wrestlers had all been set the ultimatum that they would need to win their matches on the evening or be fired. The match has some fun exchanges, but is way overbooked with lots of interference from the Old School’s manager Dean Ayass. While Jonny is a high flyer, Richards is looking to ground him, but aside from a nice top rope German suplex, he doesn’t bring much to the table at all. Richards had good fundamentals but was a fairly uninspiring wrestler, which is why he made a much better trainer in the long run. Storm wipes out both Richards and Ayass on the outside with a plancha before accidentally taking out the ref with a superkick. With the ref down, Ayass goes to throw powder into Storm’s eyes but in cliched wrestling 101 fashion this backfires and a blinded Richards falls to the rewind rana. As a result Richards is fired from the FWA – and for once it’s a stipulation that sticks as that would be his last match ever for the company – although on the way out he gets a beatdown from his former Old School stable mates who take him out with a spiked tombstone in a decent angle that gets some good heat. (* ¾)
  10. This is face vs face going in, and played up as a dream tag match, between The New Breed – who were the No. 1 tag team in the company at this point (albeit the FWA’s tag division was never one of it’s strong points, mainly due to the shallowness of the UK scene at this time with anyone with ability being needed as a singles wrestler) while Jody and Jonny were of course the two up and coming top stars. There’s a handshake at the start, but the New Breed then jump Fleisch and Storm immediately after the bell to set themselves up as the heels in the match. The opening exchanges are very early 2000s indy stuff, looking very choreographed, but the dive sequence we get from everyone is fun and works to get the crowd fired up. This leads to Jody missing a Shooting Star Press from the top (a move he’d broken his wrist doing previously) and from there he’s now your FIP. Jody, because of his flexibility and his ability to make moves look like they are breaking him in half is always able to gain good sympathy, and while Ashe and Curve don’t do anything revolutionary they do the basics of tag team wrestling well enough that it leads to a good hot tag to Jonny after a few minutes. However just as it looks like the match is going to progress from a competent one into something more engaging it starts to fall apart. The hot tag was well built to but gets cut off too early, and what’s more the New Breed’s big double teams like a super bomb from the top rope and an assisted X Factor are really sloppy. Even then it would’ve been nice for one of those moves to be the finish rather than Jonny missing a moonsault and getting pinned, which feels very anticlimactic. I’ll always give a thumbs up for an established tag team beating two singles wrestlers, even when they are more high profile, and they did tell the story in the match of Storm and Fleisch not having as good continuity when Jody accidentally hit Jonny with the 720 DDT midway through the match. However Fleisch and Storm were clearly on another level in terms of talent and The New Breed were always a team that felt very indy; attempting big moves outside their ability while looking sloppy with their fundamentals. I liked this being built up as a dream tag team match in terms of the BritWres scene of the early 2000s, but it sadly just doesn’t have much coherence too it and it’s a bit disappointing all in all. (** ¼)
  11. This is Storm’s first match back since being reinstated via a petition after losing a loser leaves town match earlier in the year. He references that before the match, and the role his long term rival/friend Jody Fleisch played in him being brought back, although he teases he wants him in the ring again. For those keeping track, Storm is still declaring himself to be the XPW European champion even though he doesn’t have a belt and that company had gone out of business. Collyer at this stage was a regular with ROH, very much in the vein of the technical wrestler mould of a Matt Stryker or John Walters. And in this match he gets to exhibit a lot of those technical skills, matching up well with Storm. I’m always a sucker for a technician vs high flyer match which gives this a nice contrast in styles, but this was also at the time when Storm was beginning to move away from being a pure cruiserweight/X Division style wrestler and was starting to incorporate a lot more of the traditional British/WOS sequences and counters into his matches, as evidenced by the very British way he is able to escape a wristlock. There’s lots of really smooth transitions in this, but you feel that something a bit more emotionally engaging would take the match to the next level that I think it was capable of, and that it kept threatening to do. We get some duelling limb work - Collyer working at the neck and Storm the arm but nothing that ever really goes too far anywhere. In 2003, Storm had turned heel on Jody Fleisch in a heated angle, but with Jody’s absence from wrestling for 18-20 months, Jonny had gone from a hot heel into more of a comedy heel, and following the petition angle to get him back in the company was basically being treated by the fans as a face. As would be the case these days, his comedy heel antics such as a double springboard to the outside…into a headlock get lapped up by the crowd. It was clear he was now well on the way to being back as one of the company’s top faces. I enjoyed the first half of the match, even if it is a bit subdued, but it really gets fun in the closing stretch with both guys just cutting lose. There’s a Malenko/Mysterio vibe to the sequences with Collyer trying to nail power moves and a series of gutbusters, while Jonny is impressive in his sringboarding of the ropes connecting with both a double jump moonsault and rewind rana. Collyer’s frustration at not being able to finish Storm with the tiger driver and then the cloverleaf leads to his downfall as he changes his game plan to go up top for a super gutbuster, which is reversed into a DDT off the top rope for the win. Fun match. (*** ¼)
  12. After the slightly disappointing reception that British Uprising II received in October 2003, it incredibly took over five months for the FWA’s next show - New Frontiers. While that could’ve had a significant impact on the company’s momentum, it is arguable that across all metrics; attendances, visibility, storylines and in ring quality 2004 was the strongest year in the FWA’s history. However, by the time the year was out, the company was already on the path to its untimely demise. The biggest news going into 2004 was that the FWA had secured its first ever national TV deal, a weekly one hour slot on the newly established Wrestling Channel. For those outside the UK that may not be aware; The Wrestling Channel was available through pay TV on Sky and, at least initially, was a hardcore wrestling fans wet dream. The channel went after pretty much every bit of non WWE owned footage they could find and made deals with company’s across the world. This was something not even American’s had. On a random day, you could easily sit down for several hours watching the channel and take in a weekly TNA PPV, followed by an ROH event DVD spliced up for television, then action from the likes of New Japan, NOAH, CMLL, World of Sport, CZW, MLW, 3PW – a crazy line-up. As part of their line-up you also then had the FWA. This was seen as a big break for the FWA in their desire to break the mainstream. As noted, the need to create engaging television, meant the company creating more compelling storylines and much greater character development, and also saw the look of the on screen product become much more polished. However, as I’ll chart, this need to create a TV quality product would ultimately be one of the key reasons for the company’s demise; like many other wrestling companies before and since - the costs of filming TV ended up being more than the money coming in and after less than a year, their weekly show had been cancelled due to the lack of money to produce it. As Greg Lambert, who was part of the creative at the time, makes the comparison, there were many similarities between the FWA and The Wrestling Channel itself. Both were companies being pushed forward on a dream, but without the financial backing and infrastructure to support it. As many others in the wrestling industry have found, The Wrestling Channel wasn’t able to attract the amount of sponsors and advertisers it needed in order to cover the costs of the expensive footage it was acquiring. As the channel went on it was forced to cut down it’s hours it was on screen, drop some of the companies it was featuring and include more cheap old action movies to pad out the schedule, before it eventually ceased operation after around there years. But for now, back to March 2004, and the start of the biggest year in the FWA’s history. New Frontiers was to act as the company’s first TV taping. After the fire incident at British Uprising II, the company were now banned from the York Hall, so needed a new London venue, so we are in the old Brent Town Hall, which was just in the shadow of Wembley Stadium. Attendance was around 700 for this show. Despite not getting the big blow off with Jody Fleisch, Jonny Storm’s heel run in 2003 was one of the highlights of the company, with him getting great heat from the crowd. He is now very much locked into his persona here and great as the cocky, flashy Essex boy with the shit eating grin. His opponent X Dream is not someone I’m familiar with at all, but was a young German high flyer making his debut for the FWA here. A quick perusal of Cagematch reveals that he didn’t go on to make a significant name for himself in the business after this. As we’ll see, I believe he only returns for one more match in the FWA. Which is a shame as he performs very well in this match and gets over impressively with the crowd. He showcases some great high flying here, looking fairly well polished and honestly wouldn’t look that out of place in today’s X Division or on 205 Live. This match is a pure, unapologetic spotfest for most of it, but as you want in one of these matches, all the moves are hit cleanly and it sets a rapid pace. Storm brings the personality to the match, working in some tropes that maybe tired now – the crisscross into the chinlock for example – but that at the time get a really good reaction. He also tones down some of his own high flying to help get the crowd behind the guy they didn’t know coming in. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is for Storm’s XPW European Title, still being reportedly carried around in a brief case and now a year and a half or so after that company going after business. If you are looking for nuance and psychology then this is probably not the match for you, but in terms of an all action, go-go-go contest, then there’s lots to enjoy. (*** ¼)
  13. Before the match we see a really nicely put together video package on Jody Fleisch following his retirement the month or so before this. It’s a great video and once again, something the FWA was very strong at compared to other indie companies. For way of comparison, I’d argue that a lot of the companies’ production, particularly their videos was much better than ROH’s at the time. They were also way ahead of the curve when it came to developing their own entrance music for wrestlers – most of which were more than decent – so not having to worry about licensed music, particularly given that in 2004 they would get their first national TV deal. The package leads us nicely into this match, given that for most of the year the company had been building to a big grudge match between Jody and Jonny Storm. Unfortunately Fleisch’s untimely retirement was a huge blow to this show. Storm – coming in with a new shaved haircut and upgraded ring gear – looks much more the part now as the heel the FWA had been building him up as in 2003 and he makes sure to run down Jody in a pre match promo. While they weren’t able to have the big blow off they wanted the development of Storm as a heel was a real plus point for the year, although as I’ve started to document, he was already starting on a path to being more of a stooging heel when I think he could’ve been pushed up the card as a serious rival for Doug Williams. Credible’s ECW cache and being only a year or so removed from WWE means he gets a pretty good reaction and it’s a match which I was fairly looking forward to going in. He gets a lot of crap from being over pushed in ECW (which he was) but I’ve always thought he was a decent worker, who when matched with the right opponent could more than hold his own and have a good match. There’s stalling at the beginning with Jonny working his heel persona and he gets plenty of heat from the crowd, even if a lot of it has some lovely tinges of early 2000s homophobia to it. Credible takes things to the outside, and given his ECW background, it makes sense that he dominates early until posting himself with a low blow around the ring post. From there Storm’s control segment isn’t terribly inspiring although I appreciate him trying to work the crowd rather than just hit big moves. Unfortunately Justin Credible never really had any particularly exciting offence so his comeback isn’t anything to get to animated about. Credible gets a visible three count after landing the Tombstone, but that’s after accidentally super kicking the referee first. Storm gets a roll up with the tights for the win after Credible goes for a second tombstone. A fairly basic match but enjoyable in the way they worked the crowd. It’s still a huge shame we never got the big Jody/Jonny grudge match here as I feel it could’ve been much different to their more ‘exhibitiony’ contests they usually had. (** ½)
  14. There is a ton of backstory going into and around this match, so settle in… For the match itself, former ECW alum Chris Hamrick had been working regularly for the FWA during the summer and had won the All England Title from the Zebra Kid. He’d then put that up in a title vs title match against Storm’s (coveted) XPW European Title. Jonny was the one who walked out with both belts, before subsequently losing the All England belt to the former champ the Zebra Kid. Coming into this match, Hamrick, as former regular in XPW before the company folded is trying to win the title so he can retire it, arguing, perhaps logically, that it’s stupid to be carrying round a title from a dead company…although remember, this is a title where an actual physical belt was never made… The wider and bigger backstory though was the completely out of the blue ‘retirement’ of Jody Fleisch, just at a time when the company had been building up to a big grudge match with him and Jonny Storm at British Uprising all year. Since he had turned on him earlier in the year the company had successfully put lots of heat on Jonny and into the feud. To this day, it’s still something of a mystery why Jody decided to take a year out of the business when he was arguably the biggest star in the company and had been booked semi regularly in ROH. It’s often sighted that it was due to family circumstances, some nagging injuries or just general burn out. Whatever the reason it was a huge blow to the company, both for the big match with Storm being planned but also in the sense that the FWA would struggle to identify that top babyface to replace him. Jody’s absence is built into the story of this match, with Jonny making the demand that if he agrees to the stip that the XPW European Title is retired if Hamrick wins, then if he wins Jody can no longer wrestle in the FWA. I don’t know if the company knew he was going to be gone for a year at this point, but it works to give some sort of storyline behind why he would no longer be competing. With all that out the way, onto the match itself, which is a hard one to gauge. In a vacuum I think it’s a lot of fun – the beginning portion with them both stooging massively is proper end of the pier, classic boo the heel/cheer the babyface stuff with them both trying to work the ref to where it’s legitimately very funny. The opening stages is a great example of how to do comedy in a wrestling match but without exposing it. During this opening Storm causes Hamrick to get a yellow card which plays into the finish. My problem is that they had spent the past several months trying to get Jonny over as a serious heel for the big grudge match with Jody Fleisch, only to turn him here into more of a stooging heel. Perhaps with the big grudge match no longer happening they thought that didn’t matter as much. From the comedic opening the match progresses as you might expect to a more indie work rate contest, and there are a number of fun exchanges even if the match at just under 20 mins is perhaps too long for what they are going for. There’s a good story throughout of Storm trying to wind up Hamrick into getting disqualified and that’s the end of the match. With the ref distracted, Storm gives Hamrick a pile driver which is banned under FWA rules. When Hamrick reverses an attempt at a headscissors into a sit down pile driver of his own he is duly given a second yellow, leading to a red card and a DQ. If the big match with Jody had still been on the table then you would’ve liked Jonny to go over stronger, but you could already see they were starting to go in the direction of Storm being more of a stooging heel than a serious one. (***)
  15. Ah, the XPW European Title, where do we start with this one… As part of their growth and the desire to pull more international eyeballs onto the promotion, the FWA was continuing to look at where it could partner up with companies overseas. The partnership with ROH that had led to the joint Frontiers of Honor show the previous month was a logical and obvious move, the decision to work with XPW, perhaps less so. I won’t go into too much detail on XPW, other than to say they were a Pound Land ECW, owned by a Porn producer, with all the violence, but none of the nuance. I’m not sure exactly how the relationship between the two companies was first established, but from the ever reliable Wikipedia: “The championship was created in 2003 through a working relationship between XPW and the FWA. This was to be the flagship of the working relationship as the title would be defended throughout Europe and would appear on both promotions respective television programmes, however the title's primary home was to be the FWA.” As we’ll document, and as ever in wrestling, things didn’t really turn out like that. Shortly after this XPW folded, but the title itself did continue to be defended in the FWA. In a somewhat comical note, an actual title belt never existed, which led to the brilliant visual of Jonny Storm, the inaugural champion, supposedly carrying the title in a briefcase he carried with him to the ring. Storm was the winner of a tournament which had a British and US bracket. Some decent names were featured, so for interest (if there are actually odd people out there like me interested in the prestigious lineage of the XPW European Title), I’ve included the brackets below: Round One Zebra Kid vs Robbie Brookside Jonny Storm vs Juventud Guerrera Psicosis vs Simon Diamond Jerry Lynn vs Chris Hamrick Round Two Jonny Storm received a bye Jerry Lynn vs Psicosis Final (held at FWA Crunch 2003) Jonny Storm vs Jerry Lynn Perhaps this is where the WWE got the idea for the UK Title… So that’s the rather lengthy backstory, onto the actual match. Jonny is coming in full blown heel now, and pleasingly gets a lot of boos from the crowd. As we’ll see after another match that night, the company was going all in on trying to make him the top heel in the promotion. Super Crazy, with the obligatory ECW chants, was I believe with XPW at the time so it makes sense for him to be the first challenger. This is wrestled very much like an ECW match from 1999/2000, with lots of back and forth, and at times, some pretty non existent selling. At the beginning of the match they announce the contest as under ‘XPW’ rules, which means that a chair comes into play at one stage, but mostly the match is wrestled cleanly. For most of the match Storm shows he can hang with Crazy – including hitting a perfect moonsault from the top turnbuckle back into the entrance area - although when he tries some of the lucha sequences and the arm drags, you can tell he’s not as polished. Crazy is the one that actually slows things down at times, and I really enjoyed his transition out of a rana and a sunset flip into an STF. You can tell in general, that Storm was getting more comfortable at being a heel, taking more time to antagonise the crowd, rather than just going from spot to spot. Crazy for his part still looks good and consistent with the standard of performance he was putting in towards the end of ECW. A criticism of some of the FWA matches at this time, which I can readily see, is how many of them seemed to copy the tropes from ECW, and matches going on at the time in TNA/ROH, with the overuse of the choreographed stand offs and series of two counts and pinning combinations. I’m looking at these matches with 2018 eyes, and they always got a good reaction in 2003, but I’m very happy that the UK scene now has much more of an original style to it, and includes many more nods back to the WOS days, than was the case in the early 2000s. From the pin reversals you get a nice escalation into the exchange of some big bombs, including a massive sit down power bomb from Crazy where he catches Jonny springboarding in, but unfortunately the match ends on a flat note by going pretty much straight from there into Storm hitting a powerbomb of his own with his feet on the ropes. I can understand why it was done – it gives Crazy an out for losing and helps to put further heat on Storm, but just feels a bit underwhelming and that it could’ve been built to better. Still, this is a fun match, and a nice rebound for Jonny after a disappointing showing against AJ Styles the month before. (*** ¼)
  16. This is a rematch from British Uprising I eight months previously. They were due to clash as part of the round robin tournament at Seasons Beatings at the end of 2002, but Storm being pulled mid way through the tournament with an injury means this is the first time they have clashed since then. Storm won the first match - although that was after a ref bump when it looked like AJ had a visual pin - so Styles is coming in determined to even the score on a personal level, while ROH are also now 2-0 down in the inter-promotional matches. I said before the opener of the show that ROH were not being treated as the heels despite them being the ‘away team’, which goes even further in this match with Jonny cutting a pre match promo (and not a particularly good one, although it’s hard to tell with the terrible acoustics) on the crowd. This was mainly due to Jonny having turned heel at Crunch 2003 in March for a big feud against Jody Fleisch, but also I think because they predicted that the fans were going to be on AJ Styles side anyway. Like their first match this is very spot heavy, with a distinct whiff of early 2000s indie wrestling about it, but it’s definitely not as good as their first meeting. In the Uprising contest, the transitions were smoother and there was more of a feeling out process, whereas here they just launch straight into things. The first match also worked better as in that one AJ worked as a subtle heel, and he is far better and more varied on offence than Storm is. That match felt more structured with AJ being able to dictate the pace more and Jonny able to build sympathy from the crowd through his selling. The FWA clearly wanted to get behind Jonny as a top heel – which we’ll see from the post match actions after the main event of this show – and while he had the obnoxious personality bits down to a tee, he was still at times wrestling very much like a babyface with his high flying. There’s still a number of fun moments: AJ’s vault over the barrier into a superkick, AJ’s signature Quebrada DDT, and a nice springboard wheelbarrow into a DDT from Storm and I enjoyed a number of the counters of some of the big moves playing into the first match between the two. The set up the FWA had at the York Hall with the stage and big entrance ramp means there is always the temptation to use it and we get Storm trying to swing off the lighting supports into a rana only for AJ to block and go for a Styles Clash. I’m not sure this section was necessary, but does make it feel different than their first match. The finishing sequence sees Storm getting a top-rope rana (after a few attempts at hitting it) but AJ wining it following a rolling Shotei and a springboard 450-splash to even their personal score at 1-1 and bring ROH back into things at 2-1. Unfortunately the pinfall is botched by ref Steve Lynskey which brings some confusion as to whether the match is over, which in a way is symptomatic of the match where they were seemingly a step off their game. Post match, Storm shakes AJ’s hand before attacking him from behind until Fleisch makes the save. (** ½)
  17. This is your classic match up, that to this day these guys are still having against one another. At this stage they are largely respectful friends with a competitive rivalry, which would change in 2003. With this being the second match of the tournament, Jody is in a must not lose position. If Jonny wins and moves onto 40 points then there’s no way he can catch him and he’ll be eliminated. With that in mind, as you would expect he wrestles at a frantic pace, although, it’s hard to say that’s solely because of the tournament storyline – that’s the way these two always wrestle! For those who hate spot-spot-spot matches, then I can see why when these two clash – especially in 2002, I think both became much more well rounded as they got older – that some would be turned off by the style. I love the chemistry and rapid transitions they have however and the familiarity they have with one another is shown in the opening exchanges where each hit the others finisher but only for two. This is far from the best match the two have had against each other, more a greatest hits package, with them both trying to throw everything they have out there – Jody with the desperation of trying to stay in the tournament and Jonny trying to eliminate Jody from contention. The end of the match is Jody connecting with his 720 DDT off the guard rail onto the outside and Storm being unable to make the count back in. This gives Jody 15 points, keeping him in the tournament for now, but with Jonny looking like he’s sustained a serious injury. (*** ¼)
  18. Seasons Beatings was the last FWA show of 2002 and came at a time when the company was really starting to gain momentum. At the previous show Christopher Daniels had just won the British Heavyweight Title so this was about finding a No. 1 contender to go to America to get the belt back. To determine who would get the title shot, a round robin tournament between Doug Williams, Jonny Storm, Jody Fleisch and AJ Styles was devised with 20 points for a pinfall/submission win, 15 points for a count out/DQ win, 10 points for a draw and no points for a loss. The wrestler at the end of the night with the most points would be No. 1 contender. Given that matches involving Doug, Jonny and Jody were fast becoming the highlights of the British scene this was a card built around the premise of seeing them all face each other in different combinations. Doug vs Jonny brought with it the simple dynamic of a more powerful competitor against a high flyer. Doug is by no means a giant, but he dominates a lot of the match, with Jonny at this time being a great underdog seller with his wiry frame, and taking moves like it looked like it was killing him. The added storyline going in was that Jonny had never beaten Doug, who was being presented going into the tournament as the favourite, not least as he had been in the Iron Man Match to crown the first ROH champion that summer. Most of the match is spent with Jonny trying to up the pace, and hit and move, whereas Doug is trying to catch him with a submission or with his suplexes, given his superior technical skills. The familiarity of the guys in the tournament means that they are all able to wrestle at speed and most of the tournament matches are fun sprints, given both the X Division style being popularised at the time and also the structure of the tournament with each guy having to wrestle three times. Jonny picks up the upset victory by catching Doug with a flash pinfall to take the 20 points. (***)
  19. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t260w0Z-qBY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgy1hrQ1NDs You feel like if Twitter and gifs had been around in 2002 that this would be the sort of match that would engage some of the debate that came following Ricochet/Ospreay, although, it’s a match where for all the faults people might have with lack of selling and transitions, it's a match where both are always trying to win with less instances of posing and stand offs. Coming into this match, AJ was just starting to build his reputation having been the breakout name alongside Low Ki (who would come appear for the FWA the next year) of early TNA and also ROH. Jonny meanwhile, alongside Jody Fleisch, was very much the new hot thing on the UK scene. Over the years Jonny would become much more of a well rounded wrestler and much more proficient on the mat and with the traditional British style, however at this stage, he was most definitely go, go, go. While Jonny gets to showcase his flying, AJ dominates a lot of the match with his high impact style. Styles has always been a guy that to me that can wrestle ‘bigger than he is’, that is to say, he is able to compete with guys that are bigger than him to where he is not viewed as an underdog because of his ability to take it to them. Likewise, when he is up against other cruiserweight or X division guys, his vast arsenal of high impact and nasty looking moves as well as hard striking and kicks means he works really well on top. This match is no different – Jonny as an elastic and wiry competitor takes a lot of punishment that results in him eliciting a lot of sympathy from the crowd and gets them on his side even though many would instinctively want to cheer AJ with his cool moves and take no crap attitude. If you’ve seen a Jonny Storm or AJ Styles match from around this time then this has pretty much all of both of their greatest hits – rewind rana, moonsault DDT, wheelbarrow DDT, leapfrog over the guardrail into a super kick – but as with everyone that night, they hit everything pretty much flawlessly. Towards the end of the match there is a pretty unnecessary ref bump, which I assume was to help protect AJ who was losing as it gave him a visual pinfall, but looking at where the booking went, it did allow them to build a rematch the next year on the basis that AJ could legitimately say he had the match won. Looking at where their respective careers went, you can clearly tell that AJ was the more polished at this stage, with the more professional look, but the strength of the match is the way you can easily get behind the way it’s presented as a dream match between one of the US’ best young high flyers and one of the UK’s. (*** ½)
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