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  1. Night 2 of the tour is from Bolton. Coming in, Tighe is the one with the momentum in 2003 having just pinned Jody Fleisch on the last big FWA show (Hotwired) and would go on to main event the biggest show of the year (British Uprising 2). Xavier by contrast has been up and down. I like that this match doesn’t start with the usual indie reversals and standoffs (a standard trope of many an FWA match at this time) and there’s some nice matwork at the beginning to enjoy. They each try some ‘mind games’ at the beginning to try and get the advantage, with Xavier winning the battle of wits to get a couple of close near falls. Tighe is the better, more in form wrestler of the two, so Xavier keeping him off his game is how he is able to get the advantage. As the match goes on however, you can see Tighe’s quality coming to the fore, and increasingly Xavier is having to go more high risk to hang in there. This leads to him taking a really scary looking bump off a moonsault to the floor landing on his leg. It would’ve been nice to see Tighe then go after the leg and show a more vicious or focussed side, but they then go to the finish fairly quickly after that. Xavier gets a close 2 count off a flatliner, but gets caught going up top, and Tighe his the Tighetanic off the ropes for the win. (** ¾)
  2. The Northern Exposure Tour was the second of two tours that the FWA would run in 2003, in an attempt to branch out of its southern base. The second tour was much more scaled down however, with just three nights instead of seven (mainly due to the local promoters that had ‘partnered’ with the FWA to put each event first time around all losing money). This first night of the tour is from the Morecambe Dome, which would become the company’s regular Northern venue going forward after this, and this is a 'first time in the FWA' clash. It is face vs face, so the early going is full of quick reversals and parity sequences. Right from the start this shows that Fleisch is the quicker of the two, so I liked the basic storyline of Xavier realising he can’t hang with Jody in a sprint and then switching things up and slowing things down. Xavier therefore becomes the de facto heel for the match, and I was impressed with how vicious he was being on simple moves and grinding in holds to show he was being more aggressive. This continues with Xavier locking in a really unique looking tarantula like move and then when Fleisch is hung up in the ropes dropkicking him to the floor where he takes a really nasty bump. Jody is always a good face in peril, and when it comes to his flying in this, is really spot on, wowing the crowd (who on the FWA’s tour shows were more of a family audience than the FWA’s regular hardcore fans). While Xavier’s change in approach is successful in helping to control large sections of the match, his frustration grows when he can’t put Fleisch away, and that's when he tries to up the pace again and unleash the bigger weapons in his arsenal, moving away from the simpler ground game that had been working. Upping the pace though plays into Jody’s hands and leaves him vulnerable, and a flash 720 DDT gives Jody the win. The finish comes a bit out of nowhere, but shows the 720 is Fleisch’s kill shot, whereas Jody is able to survive Jack’s big moves like the rolling X-Plex. I liked the intensity in this match, and some of the rougher exchanges at times actually helped the match feel more rugged (***)
  3. This is in the tried and tested tradition of putting a company ace up against an up and coming face where the rookie gets to shine, but ultimately falls to the veteran’s greater skills and experience. As befitting that formula, we get a fast start from Xavier with a series of arm drags and a good early nearfall of a sky high/elbow drop powerbomb. I really liked the sequence where Williams, showing his experience, rolls to the outside to break the initial flurry from Xavier and then moves away from his technical wrestling wheelhouse to strikes and punches after realising he’s now in a fight. However, we then get Xavier going to the outside when the match is going against him, showing he is learning, and earning a round of applause from Doug. We then get Doug slowing down the match and returning to his strengths, by working holds and him taking control. During this portion, Williams shows just how good a wrestler he is; everything is so slick and there’s real snap behind all his offensive moves. Xavier gets in some hope spots to keep the crowd invested, but while the match is on the mat there’s only going to be one winner, so when he creates an opening by moonsaulting over Doug, he realises he has to up the pace and he gets a close 2 off a rolling release X-Plex, which was one of his signature moves, and something Pete Dunne uses a lot now. This is where the match escalates – Xavier trying to keep up the pace, while Doug starts to go for some big bombs to try and put the youngster away, including a series of powerbombs, as the crowd is now really invested in the rookie hanging with the ace. Ultimately it’s William’s greater technical skills that end up winning the day with him getting a roll up into a bridge. This match though was successful in getting Xavier over as someone that could hang with guys at the top of the card. (***)
  4. This is for the FWA All England Title and a match well built up over the summer of 2004 as an offshoot from the Alex Shane/Xavier feud. That also culminated in a Last Man Standing Match. A large part of the issue for how this match was received at the time was trying to live up to that previous bout. At the finish of that match, Vansen had cost Xavier by interfering on behalf of Shane who in storyline was acting as his mentor. The pairing of these two as opponents was wrestling 101, taking Vansen – the cocky good looking heel from London and matching him with Xavier – the stocky, Hawaiian shirt wearing Brummie who had become something of a people’s champion. The two had clashed for the All England Title at Vendetta in July, which had ended in a double KO. This is another example of the strength of FWA storytelling and booking in 2004; a stipulation suiting the storyline and a call back to the beginning of the feud. Xavier had then pinned Vansen in a six man tag at Hotwired in September to show that he could pin the Champ. As mentioned, the main issue for this match was living up to both the LMS between Shane and Xavier in April (a match I’d rate as **** and which was well acclaimed at the time) but also the level of violence in the hardcore matches that the company had put on previously. The legacy of ECW and what fans expected of a match like this meant going in there was definitely a desire for a violent spectacle. As I’ll outline, despite the hard work of the guys, it was met with some critical disappointment at the time for failing to live up to the expected ‘level of extreme’ that people wanted. As is the case for the whole of this show in general though, being viewed many years later I think that’s unfair and its a very good match. The first five mins in particular are great, with real fire and intensity from both guys. This is a Last Man Standing Match so thankfully no locking up – Vansen charges straight at Xavier in the aisle way to start and they brawl all over the ramp and stage area. I really like the way they use the environment - Vansen with a hurucunrana off the support beams of the entrance, Xavier with a moonsault off the stage - and as it’s different to the other matches on the card it stands out. I love the hate in what they are doing – there aren’t long periods of setting up elaborate structures or finding comedy items to hit each other for cheap pops. When they get back in the ring they don’t rely on weapons shots, rather beating each other down with strikes and kicks. There also aren’t constant 10 count teases at this point to break the flow. However the match does slow down when Vansen uses a belt to choke out Xavier. This section arguably goes on a bit long, breaking the flow, but there is a nice spot where Xavier is hung up over the rope and Vansen hits him with some stiff kicks. Throughout Vansen plays a great cocky prick, but playing to the crowd gives Xavier an opening and he gets an 8 count by giving Vansen an X Plex off the apron. This looked brutal, but I like the way that as Vansen is close to the ring he can use that as an aid to get back to his feet rather than looking heroic for surviving the move. While earlier I mentioned that it was good to not have lots of ref counting spots to interrupt the flow, I think in the closing stretch it could’ve actually done with a couple more teases to properly get over the stipulation and build the drama. As the match reaches its climax, Xavier uses the title belt as a weapon, which ordinarily would be an odd move for a bayface – even in a no DQ setting – but it actually works as a call back to how Vansen used it on him to help Shane with the LMS in April. But then the match seems to loss it’s nerve; I really liked how it hadn’t relied on weapon shots, but perhaps feeling the pressure I talked about of having a big enough ending, Xavier wastes ages trying to find stuff under the ring which isn’t there to try to set up a guardrail to put Vansen though. In the end, Vansen reverses the attempt and gives Xavier a South City Driller DDT off the top rope through the barrier. It’s the double whammy of a spot that looked really painful to take but at the same time left the crowd underwhelmed. I think there’s a lot to like in 90% of this match, but it needed a hotter, more dynamic closing stretch. The result also meant Xavier coming across as a choke artist, given he lost the feud to Shane and then failed to win the title with his shot at redemption. In fact, the commentators had played up his repeated failures to win the All England Title against different title holders. So while I can see why the company wanted Vansen to win – he had the greater potential and more long term value up the card, it’s a massive shame that after a banner year in 2004, Xavier would never be that hot ever again. (*** ½)
  5. Hotwired 2004 was the last stop before British Uprising III – the biggest event in the FWA’s history. It kept in play most of the key storyline’s heading into the big show and was another excellent event in a consistent run of quality shows for the company in 2004. Sadly however, rather than the FWA being spring boarded onto greater success, for many, this was the peak of the curve and the company would soon after start it’s downward slide. For Greg Lambert - both a performer with the company and part of the creative at this stage – in his book Holy Grail, September 2004 and this event was the FWA’s highest point. This six man tag was all about the ever escalating Hade Vansen and Jack Xavier rivalry over the All-England Title, but the strength of FWA storytelling in 2004 is that the other guys in the match are also interlinked. Vansen’s heel turn at the end of 2003 had really improved things for a guy that had been floundering as a bland and pretty unlikeable face, but his association with Alex Shane as his protégé is what got him over. Going all the way back to Crunch in April 04, his interference cost Xavier the last man standing match with Shane. Since that point, Xavier and Vansen had fought for the title at Vendetta in July – which ended in a double knockout – before Xavier won a Round Robin tournament in Enfield beating Vansen in the final to get himself another title shot at British Uprising III the month after. Vansen then is partnered by Stixx (still going on the UK scene today) and Martin Stone (NXT’s Danny Burch, just breaking into the business) who were both part of Alex Shane’s personal security team and therefore also aligned with Vansen. Xavier is partnered by two young guys - Aviv Maayan and Ross Jordan (still competing on the UK scene as RJ Singh) who had both been foes of Shane/Vansen in the summer, including Mayan getting a big upset win over Shane. This is a really fun 6 man tag, with lots of action, although you can tell a lot of the guys were still very green, with a few sloppy moments. We get some good heeling early on from Vansen, who is always looking to tag out when Xavier comes in, but that means the other guys get a good opportunity to showcase themselves. Stixx and Mayan have an excellent opening sequence, with their version of the famous Low Ki/Amazing Red exchange from ROH with some really rapid counters. As he has throughout most of 2004, Mayan looks really polished for a guy still very fresh into wrestling and it’s a real shame he dropped out of wrestling just a few years after this. All three faces get the chance for some shine early until Ross Jordan gets planted with a nasty powerbomb by Stone to turn him into the face in peril. There’s nothing too dynamic about the heat segment but even this early into his career you can see the potential in Stone – everything he does is sound and looks vicious. As is usually the case with a 6 man tag, we get a run of everyone hitting some big moves, including dives from all the faces to the outside. Stixx breaks up Xavier’s first attempt at getting Vansen up for his X-Plex finisher with a spear, but he manages to get it second time around to build their title match at Uprising III by showing he can pin the champion. (***)
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ub707DChaU This was a pretty legendary match in the fairly short history of the FWA and one which was heavily built to as a hook for the new FWA TV show. Shane was now firmly the focal point of the promotion, transplanting his off screen role as the company’s managing Director onto TV and looking to take the company to the next level with him at it’s centre. In storyline terms, a guy looking like Jack Xavier – stocky and wrestling in a shirt and shorts, a Mick Foleyesque figure – was not what he wanted in the FWA. Reflecting the intensity of the feud, I love the beginning of the match as we jump right into it the action with Xavier jumping Shane from behind and hitting him with a sick chair shot that busts him open immediately. We also see some intelligent babyface work from Xavier with him taking out Shane’s security guards (including the future Martin Stone/Danny Burch) with chairshots and then leaping onto them and Shane with a somersault plancha. Xavier’s intensity in the early parts of the match are great and he battles Shane across the seating area on the stage and then hits a pretty mental looking tornado DDT from the stage to the floor! Last man standing matches can often get drawn out with lots of breaks in the flow, but the intensity and fire that both guys bring and the fact that the match doesn’t outstay it’s welcome at a shade under 15 mins means it doesn’t fall victim to that. Added to that, both guys take some massive bumps. After Xavier’s initial flurry, Shane is able to take control by hip tossing Xavier off the bleachers to the floor below and then hitting a series of sick chairshots to the head that are pretty hard to watch with 2018 eyes. Xavier played a great babyface and his facials (as well as also getting busted open himself) really get across his fighting spirit. Shane also plays his desperation well, explaining why he needs to up the violence by setting up a table on the outside, although in another brutal looking bump he ends up getting speared through the ropes by Xavier with both men crashing through it (think Edge vs Foley from Wrestlemania 21, only without the fire). Given all the punishment they’ve taken in the match, some might feel that Shane ultimately getting the win with his One Night Stand finisher might be underwhelming, but it works in the sense that both – especially Xavier – have taken a lot of abuse and the cumulative impact of that and the fact that Xavier looks to be getting to his feet before being taken out by a belt shot by All England Champion Hade Vansen. This is the start of an alliance and the transition of Xavier into a feud with Vansen, leaving Shane to continue his storylines with Doug Williams and Steve Corino. This is an excellent match that holds up to this day, with a great pace for a LMS match. Even in defeat, it was a match that also got Xavier over as a guy the fans were happy to rally behind. (****)
  7. The biggest story coming out of British Uprising II was arguably Alex Shane turning heel on Ulf Herman. In 2004 he would become the No. 1 heel in the company, with them now being open on air about Shane being the Managing Director of the FWA alongside being an in-ring competitor. There is a pretty good promo that Shane cuts where he explains why he turned on Herman, sighting him – with his use of weapons and fire and his swearing in interviews - as a detriment to getting a TV deal. The Shane/Xavier rivalry and the associated segments involving Doug Williams and Steve Corino show how far in 2004 the FWA would use the internet and ‘shoot’ angles to push its storylines forward. This match for example stems from an interview Xavier gave in which he criticised the company for pushing him TOO much. Hmmm… but the gist was that he felt he was being shoved down people’s throats and that was the reason some fans had turned on him when he had beat Homicide at Uprising II. In response Shane said that he should be grateful for the ‘push’ and that the reason some of the fans were beginning to turn against him was because of his lack of drive and lack of fire. I’ve never been a fan of talking about ‘pushes’ and ‘getting over’ on wrestling TV and that whole ‘the rest of this stuff is fake, but this is REAL’ rubbish, but back in 2004, this appealed to a lot of fans, and hadn’t been done in the UK before. The FWA was a company appealing to a hardcore, internet fanbase, and did mean that you could feel genuine animosity and believability in a lot of the angles they were presenting. This is the storyline of the match, with Shane saying that Xavier needs to show fire and impress him, or risk losing his spot on the roster. I enjoyed him trying to fire him up with slaps and spitting at him, but then retreating when Xavier goes on the offence. As we’ll see in 2004, these too have good chemistry, with Shane using his size and playing the cocky bullying heel, and Xavier being the every man babyface able to take lots of punishment, however it’s clear that this match is setting the table for future matches down the line. They spend a lot of time brawling on the floor and up to the ramp way, and there’s not a huge amount to get invested in, but things pick up when Shane takes a really nasty looking tornado DDT off the apron and through a table. At that stage it looks like we might get a double count out, but Shane ends up winning the match with his feet on the ropes. It’s obviously a cheap finish, but I do like the storyline in terms of Shane running his mouth about Xavier not having the fire and needing to step up as he’s not on his level, but that when he does he has to resort to cheating to be able to defeat him, It’s a fairly standard match overall, but as I say, sets the table nicely for their last man standing rematch which was one of the most well regarded matches in the company’s history (***) As I’m yet to be able to find a copy of the match, for now I’m going to add a note on the Doug Williams vs Steve Corino match on this show for the FWA Title. As previously mentioned, this comes from another of the shoot style angles the FWA was running with; Corino coming out of the crowd unannounced interrupting a match earlier on in the show. Corino and Shane have a face to face confrontation around the fact that Shane wouldn’t book Corino on the FWA vs ROH show the year before and was blocking him from appearing. We then get an interruption from Doug Williams saying that Shane told him he could take the night off but that he wants to defend the title against Corino. In an interesting way of getting to that match, Williams says that if he doesn’t get to defend the title then the fans can sue Shane for false advertising, which as just as well, given the lack of funds in the FWA coffers… As I say, I haven’t been able to find the match outside of a highlight video to do a review, but it’s hard to imagine it not being pretty good, especially given the great matches Doug was regularly putting on at this stage. The bigger point is that this is the start of a 7-8 month build to Williams vs Shane.
  8. https://vimeo.com/19142823 British Uprising was designed to be the FWA’s signature show each year. Coming off the success of Uprising I and a good year for the company, the pressure was on for Uprising II to live up to expectation. It was a show which the company poured a lot into, but while no means a bad show – I think there’s a lot to like, especially viewed many years after the fact – for whatever reason it just didn’t land as was hoped for. As with the previous year, the FWA ran the York Hall – a great venue for wrestling – and there is a good crowd on hand. The production; from the entrance way, the video screens, onscreen graphics, ramp and use of pyro shows the time and effort put into trying to make the show feel big time, and it’s one of the reasons I always enjoyed the FWA; they were a company – for better or worse – taking those risks to try and build the UK scene. It’s clearly not WWE level production, but when compared to what indie companies on the US scene were doing at the time for example, it deserved credit. A word as well for the great Uprising opening video, introduced following a clearly ECW inspired in ring introduction from the often much maligned (they were pretty bad) but infectiously enthusiastic FWA commentary team of Tony Giles and Nick London. Finally, before getting onto the opener, this show is rather infamous for being heavily delayed because of a bomb scare, causing the building to have to be swept by the police for explosive devices. Thankfully a hoax call, but it was perhaps a sign that despite no lack of effort and goodwill, fate really was conspiring against the FWA and Uprising II that day. The opener is the culmination of a storyline that had been running for most of the year, whereby home grown up and comer Jack Xavier was being matched against a series of imports being brought over for FWA shows to prove himself. After matches against Juventud Guerrera, Chris Hamrick, Mikey Whipwreck and EZ Money comes arguably his biggest task – taking on Homicide. This match is at its best when Homicide is on top, and at times he really lays a beating on Xavier with plenty of chops and kicks and some nasty looking face washes and drop kicks in the corner, one of which looks to legitimately injure Jack’s nose. I enjoyed Homicide immediately putting on an STF at that stage and wrenching back on the now bloody nose – work that cut! Jack was able to generate sympathy from the crowd through his selling and Homicide was always a wrestler that worked well on top as a Japanese strong style/New Jack lite hybrid. Jack is able to get in some brief flurries using his pretty unique move set but nothing to where he’s able to inflict any sustained damage. Showing how much punishment he’s dished out, Homicide almost wins by count out following his trade mark tope con hilo to the outside. It’s something of an upset, both in terms of the profile of each guy and the context of the match, when Xavier ends up winning what is a fun contest. On the one hand it was good – it’s to the detriment of your own guys when the better known imports would always get put over – and it fits with the storyline of Xavier having now proved himself, but due to the nature of people’s perceptions you sense some resentment from the crowd at him going over. It’s tough, sometimes you can get over more in a hard fought loss rather than fans feel you are being over pushed. As I say though, that is only a slight sense that you get, and this is a good match that helped cement Xavier as a key player going into 2004. (***)
  9. As ever before the opener of the show, a little intro on where the FWA was at this point; this is the final stop before the company’s biggest event of the year - British Uprising II the next month. As such, this show is used as a set up with a much heavier use of angles, promos and non wrestling segments than previous FWA cards. With no TV in place at this stage, and being in the pre YouTube era, it makes some sense to try to build up the big upcoming show, but as you’ll see in the individual match threads I’ll post, the matches suffer as a result, and after a strong run of shows from British Uprising I the previous October, this was a clear step back in quality. As with Vendetta the previous month, we are in the Broxbourne Civic Hall, however attendance does look from the eye to be slightly down. As we’ll come onto, that’s perhaps because of the absence of Doug Williams and Jody Fleisch, and maybe the lack of an overseas import with a significant buzz or big name. One of those imports, EZ Money, is in our opener. He’s facing Jack Xavier, who in 2003 was being pushed up the card by being put against a lot of the US imports coming over. Xavier had already faced off with Juventud Guerrera and Chris Hamrick, and at Frontiers of Honor he defeated Mikey Whipwreck. This is all being done to build him up to facing Homicide at British Uprising, and the fact he wins here is the best part of the match. The rest is very disappointing however. The match has a lot of the worst habits of indie wrestling: lack of transitions, selling ranging from spotty to non-existent and no particular storyline to thread the match together. The spots themselves are also awkward with the two guys not exhibiting much in the way of chemistry. Xavier throughout his time played a great underdog for the crowd to rally behind but EZ Money never really takes control of the match and so there is little opportunity for any heat to build. I quite liked EZ Money in his late ECW run and also thought he was fun in his couple of months in the dying days of WCW as Jason Jett, but as the guys on the ThROH The Years podcast pointed out in their review of Expect the Unexpected http://placetobenation.com/throh-the-years-episode-15-expect-the-unexpected/ while he’s a guy that can look good in a multi man match or a tag team where he can come in and hit some impressive spots, when put in with someone where he was expected to lead more of the match, he doesn’t have that ability. There are one or two fun spots in this match – both guys are good at that – and both have some fairly unique moves in their arsenal, but overall this does not hang together well at all, and I was really disappointed. (* ½)
  10. This is the second qualifier for a No. 1 contenders match, with the winner to meet James Tighe at a future show to determine who would get an FWA title shot. Both guys are coming in with momentum from Frontiers of Honor; Xavier from beating Mikey Whipwreck and Flash from holding Low Ki to a time limit draw, which would’ve earned serious credibility points. In terms of FWA hierarchy, Flash is much higher though as a two time British Champion and in this match it shows. It’s largely one sided, with Barker dominating, and you never feel like Jack has a chance. In the opening moments they exchange kicks, and while Xavier is someone that can absorb a lot of punishment he doesn’t have the weapons to live with Flash, who is able to win all the strike exchanges. Xavier was starting to really get over with the crowd as an underdog babyface and this match does allow him to showcase his excellent selling and building sympathy, but aside from a couple of brief flurries, it’s no surprise that Flash wins in fairly decisive fashion with his Flash in the Pan (Roll of the Dice) finisher. (** ¼)
  11. Mikey Whipwreck has always been a real favourite of mine, although I wouldn’t say a guilty pleasure as that doesn’t give him enough credit. His tag team with Tajiri is a legitimately brilliant team. However, it’s somewhat odd to see him here representing ROH, given from what I recall he wasn’t particularly prominent for that company at all, only I think wrestling in a couple of multi man scramble matches with Special K. Feel free to let me know if I’m wrong though! I think him being featured here was also because of the allure that UK companies had at the time for booking former ECW guys. While Whipwreck may not be the most obvious choice to represent ROH, it’s really good to see Xavier in here in a decent spot and being one of the FWA representatives. Like Tighe, Xavier was a young guy who fans were starting to get behind, and who would go on in 2003 and 2004 to be a prominent face for the company with his feuds against Alex Shane and Hade Vansen. The decision to match them up is logical, given the many similarities; both visually, in their statures and ring attire but also in their in-ring style. However because they are so similar, there are times when they simply seem to be exchanging moves with little transitioning – sometimes a styles clash, if it’s not too awkward, can work better than two people that work the same way. The match starts fairly cautiously with Whipwreck stalling, but gets more entertaining when they hit the floor and start trying to dive at each other over the crowd barriers. The selling is a bit all over the place but there is a frenetic chaos to the match and they bring lots of intensity. The match is wrestled in a 2000 ECW way, with chairs and the ringside table and guardrails being used, but as accessories to spots rather than just mindless plunder brawling. It’s a match that feels like it wouldn’t have looked out of place on an ECW TNN show from the last few months of the company. I liked the storyline of Xavier being a younger version of Whipwreck, teaching an old dog some new tricks, and being able to keep one step ahead of him by adapting some of his signature moves. It’s a match that puts Xavier over with him being able to kick out of the Whippersnapper. In one sense the roll up finish feels a bit anti-climatic given some of the punishment they are both taking, but it works in the sense of the youngster being just too quick for the veteran. The FWA goes 2-0 up. (**)
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