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Life As An Indy Wrestling Referee Part 1

Abe brings his unique perspective to the masses! Anyone with aspirations for wrestling should peruse this for a heads up!

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Abe brings his unique perspective to the masses! Anyone with aspirations for wrestling should peruse this for a heads up!

When I graduated college in August of 2018, I knew I wanted to contribute to a wrestling promotion in any capacity I could. My first thought was Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling (ROW). They’ve produced the likes of Kylie Rae, Ember Moon, and Fallah Bahh and would obviously create great connections. The problem is that the facility is about a 2 hour drive from me. That’s nothing if I needed to travel for a show but a clear problem if I needed to be there daily.

I asked a friend if he knew anyone in wrestling and he directed me to someone named Adam Drake that works commentary for a local promotion called Lions Pride Sports. After looking into it and seeing guys like Rikishi and Jerry “The King” Lawler on previous posters, I got excited. I asked Adam if there was any way I could help. He told me that the students of the school are typically the ones that help out.

At that moment, I thought back to a conversation I had with my friend, Alex Reyes. You may remember Alex from doing backstage interviews in NXT around 2016. Several years ago I asked him how I could break into the wrestling business. My ultimate goal was to be a writer on a creative team but there aren’t entry level jobs for that kind of thing. You would need to have worked in television or wrestling for years. Alex told me that I should consider being a referee. I would learn how to take bumps and get my first experience in the industry.

After reminiscing on that talk, I decided to take the leap of faith and start my training as a referee. Adam redirected me to the school’s head coach, Houston Carson. Houston was a pro wrestler that mainly worked in his career in the state of Texas. Over his career, he wrestled the likes of Bobby Lashley, Jinder Mahal, Gene Snitsky, Satoshi Kojima, and Davey Boy Smith Jr., to name a few. Unfortunately, he was forced into early retirement before age 30 due to a medical condition. He decided to found Lions Pride Sports in 2017 then the Lions Den Training Facility in 2018.

On October 10th of 2018 I had my first day of class. It was rough, but I knew that’s where I needed to be. Everyone was so welcoming. The best part is that we all shared that love of professional wrestling. I honestly couldn’t think of another time where I could openly talk about wrestling with a group of strangers. Above all, what kept me coming back was how much I was learning in such a short amount of time.

I’ve always been a fan that made sure to defend the sanctity of pro wrestling but that loyalty got inflated tenfold after enrolling. Never again will I say someone on Raw or Smackdown “can’t wrestle” or is “overrated”. It’s probably the most ignorant thing for any fan to think. I doubt Triple H would even let you work an NXT house show in front of 100 people until you’ve mastered the fundamentals. I could probably write an entire article on just the absolute basics. I’m talking circling the ring, locking up, grabbing/receiving a headlock, and hitting the ropes. We’ve seen these things done perfectly a million times every week on television but we never get to see what it looks like when a beginner is doing them. Trust me when I say it’s not pretty.

It’s insane how much the placement of each body part matters between both people in the ring. Not just from a functionality standpoint but from a psychology one as well. I couldn’t even show my cousin that I learned a wristlock because he didn’t know where to put his feet. I used to think ring psychology was just the art of working a body part for a whole match but that doesn’t even tickle the surface. There’s psychology injected into every move, even the collar and elbow tie-up.

Everything you hear is true. Hitting the ropes at full speed stings. Taking bumps hurts. I didn’t take my first bump from another person until about a month into the class. If you bump correctly you don’t feel anything. However, I’ve taken basic sidewalk slams with no force behind them and I couldn’t catch my wind for several minutes because I didn’t follow the correct procedure. Our warehouse isn’t insulated either. The only thing between us and nature is the walls. There were plenty of days where we had to bump in 30-40 degree weather. After experiencing pain in the most simple bumps, I’m even more amazed at pro wrestlers’ abilities to hit missile dropkicks and superplexes.

In November, we had two of Booker’s students, Zack Mason and Will Allday guest lecture us. That was easily my most difficult day. I couldn’t do anything right. I attempted a dropkick without knee pads and gave myself a bone bruise that lasted a month. I tried to do a front bump for the first time and nearly concussed myself. Taking arm drags was fine but I never got the desired distance and direction Will wanted from me. It was rough.

Coach Houston is actually good friends with Lance Archer so he came to guest coach in December. We couldn’t get through our most basic drills because of how much psychology Lance needed to teach us between each step. If you think you know it all as a wrestling fan, that day would have made you realize you know nothing. Thankfully, I was reffing most of the drills because I could see how overwhelmed and unsure the rest of the class was growing. That whole day was a real privilege. I can now say I’ve taken a shoulder tackle from a member of Suzuki-gun.

I learned that there’s actual phases of a match. Every now and then the class sits down and Houston gives us a psychology talk where we break down those phases. Ever notice how you don’t see Seth Rollins ever hit a slingblade or Falcon Arrow in the whole first half of a match? That’s part of it. We’ll then be given homework where we have to find a match of our choosing and write up a whole psychology analysis of it. It sounds cliche, but I definitely watch wrestling a lot differently now. The best part is that it hasn’t gotten any less enjoyable.

You may notice I’m being very vague with the way I’m describing the things I’ve learned. I’m doing that out of respect for my instructors and wrestling schools everywhere. They’ve taken hours upon hours from their life to teach us these things. I’ve never heard these lessons spoken outside the walls of a wrestling school so who would I be to air them all out?

I’ll bookmark it right there for now. I’ve talked about my first impressions with wrestling school, so next time I’ll get into the horrors, thrills and intricacies of working in front of an audience for the first time!


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Greg DeMarco

Greg DeMarco’s ROH #469 Review: Pure Championship Tournament Kicks Off

Greg DeMarco starts playing catch-up on ROH with the Pure Championship tournament, featuring Jay Lethal vs. Dalton Castle and Jonathan Gresham vs. Wheeler Yuta!

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ROH Ring Of Honor Pure Tournament Pure Championship

Greg DeMarco starts playing catch-up on ROH as the company makes its return to TV with the Pure Championship tournament, featuring Jay Lethal vs. Dalton Castle and Jonathan Gresham vs. Wheeler Yuta!

If you know me, you know I am a huge ROH fan going back to the “old days” when the company featured stars like CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, AJ Styles, Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), Kevin Steen (Owens), El Generico (Sami Zayn) and many more. Recent years turned me off of the of the product, but with ROH making a return and focusing on the Pure Championship, I am ready to make my own return…to honor.

ROH episode #469

The company gives us a quick overview of the Pure Championship that was impactful for me–a guy who was already familiar with the product. For someone who isn’t? I think it’s lacking. Then we have Quinn McKay here to present the field to us, in a manner that was downright goofy with the majestic music and all. It doesn’t seem to fit the “pro wrestling” motif they are going for.

They also give us an overview of the rules, and I am left wondering if they simply forgot that the first closed fist earns you a warning, and the second costs you a rope-break if you have any left. If you’re going to bring this back, even using the old belt, let’s do it right!

Jay Lethal promo

We’re doing sit down interviews with each person, and it’s still just…odd. I don’t know if it’s the music, the way it’s lit, filmed, or what. It just seems like I am watching an old show, not something that was released within the past month. Jay Lethal does a good job selling the importance of the championship, but I question calling Brian Kendrick “Spanky.” Yes, that was his name when Lethal beat him, but today’s fan isn’t going to remember this as well. This is a problem similar to AEW. you’re trying to build new fans, not just appease old ones.

Dalton Castle promo

I am on record thinking that Dalton Castle was cheated in his ROH World Championship reign. but his promo didn’t sell me on ANYTHING. And I love Dalton Castle.

Pure Championship Tournament Block A First Round: Dalton Castle vs. Jay Lethal

I love, love, LOVE the stats on the wrestler cards on their way to the ring. Kinda reminds me of another company that was going to focus on stats….and hasn’t. The clock and rope break counter on the bottom of the screen is a nice touch. It’s strange to see if during a whole match, but it’s also something I will get used to.

Jay Lethal was manipulated into the ropes by Dalton Castle early, establishing the importance of the rope breaks. Later Castle used the rope for leverage, allowing Ian Riccaboni to explain to use that that wasn’t a rope break.

Castle went for a Bangarang at the 11-minute mark, seeing his leg give out at the end. Lethal had to use his second rope break to stop the pinfall. Jay Lethal connects with the Lethal Injection at 13 minutes to score the pinfall.

Winner and advancing to the Block A Semifinals – Jay Lethal
Rating – ***
Impression: Great match, cheated out of fan reaction, definitely one to watch.

I really liked his this match established the rules of the tournament, as Lethal used two rope breaks and Dalton Castle used none. Castle was highly effective with his legal closed fists, telling that story as well. This was a good match to kick off the tournament.

Wheeler Yuta promo

I was exposed to Wheeler as part of Dojo Pro on Amazon Prime, but this promo did a good job establishing who he is. Might be worth it to secure some footage of his matches, even if it’s from Dojo Pro. Pictures are great, but footage is better. Wheeler Yuta fits in with ROH, and this promo told me exactly that.

I also really liked Yuta describing his in-ring philosophy as a “decoder.” One who figures out his opponent through film study and the feeling out process of a match, and then “decodes” how to beat them. Break down their tendencies and exploit them. If you want to see wrestling presented as a modern-day sport–this is it.

Jonathan Gresham promo

Gresham’s rise to prominence in ROH came when I wasn’t really watching, so for me this was a great opportunity for me to gain an appreciation for what he means to the company now, and how he compares to those who historically came before him. He ended with a bit of a manifesto on pure wrestling, and it makes me wonder if we could see a pure wrestling vs. non pure wrestling feud of some kind. Not sure it would work.

Honestly my reaction to the Yuta and Gresham promos makes me think I was too hard on the Jay Lethal and Dalton Castle promos. The goofy music didn’t matter as much to me, because I was engaged in both talents. I am literally sold on both after these not-so-short promos.

Pure Championship Tournament Block A First Round: Jonathan Gresham vs. Wheeler Yuta

Love the storytelling of Jonathan Gresham coming to the ring without his World Tag Team Championship, when Lethal did. Gresham was the one campaigning for this title to return, and he is fully focused on it. I love Wheeler Yuta already, but dude we gotta talk about your footwear. You stopped wearing a shirt, and look more like a wrestler. Get some boots! I knew Gresham was shorter, but didn’t realize that was 5’4″. I am going to assume that’s not worked at all, even though many heights are.

I don’t love the amateur wrestler in the background, this is pro wrestling. You don’t want to associate this tournament with a regression in the product–because despite this being a return of a championship after being gone for 14 years, it’s not that.

Wheeler Yuta is 6 feet tall, the tallest of all four competitors featured on this episode. And at 23 years old, he’s already a fantastic storyteller. If he adds size, he can be a big time star–not only for ROH, but in the wrestling business in general.

If you think the first match of this show told a good story, then this one told a phenomenal in-ring story. I can’t even describe the finishing sequence of this match, a punch of rolling pinfall combinations that ended with Gresham pounding Yuta’s knee into the mat until he tapped.

Winner and advancing to the Block A Semifinals – Jonathan Gresham
Rating – ****
Impression: Match of the night, which sounds silly when we only had two matches. But if there were more, this would still likely be on top.

Wheeler Yuta belongs in ROH, and he proved that here. Jonathan Gresham is one of the best in-ring wrestlers in the world today. Hopefully he sticks around.

Overall Impression – 8/10

Ring Of Honor is still a little too “goofy” for my tastes outside the ring, but they more than make up for it in the ring. I am not 100% sure others will agree. It makes me wonder who is producing the non-in-ring elements of the program, and what we have to do to replace them. The in-ring action honestly holds up against any in the world, but the other elements remind me of a high school media project. The talent deserves better.

I do want to talk about the environment. It reminds me of WWE NXT at Full Sail or the Performance Center. Outside of the WWE Thunderdome, I think it’s one of the best environments anyone has created during this “COVID era” of wrestling. I wouldn’t be opposed to piping in some crowd reactions to go along with this action, as there were some great moments in both matches that didn’t land as well without the crowd noise.

Ian Riccaboni makes a great point about how the fans would “come alive” when Lethal and Castle were both down, and he was exactly right. Caprice Coleman, being a wrestler himself, is really underrated as a color commentator. He does a great job adding to the story by adding the wrestlers’ perspective, as well as explaining the technical elements. Riccaboni sounds like a fan who has learned from commentators (not his fault, he’s not a wrestler) when getting technical. Coleman sounds 100% credible and legit.

Putting aside the goofiness of some non-in-ring elements, the only thing I would change here is adding a middle match that is designed to give us a break from the Pure Rules, and introduce (or reintroduce) us to other ROH talent. My 8/10 rating is propped up by the in-ring action, which has to make up for the goofiness otherwise.


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Greg DeMarco

Greg DeMarco’s NXT Takeover XXX Real Time Review

Pat McAfee and Adam Cole shock the world, and NXT Takeover XXX delivers like Takeovers do. What does Greg think?

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WWE NXT Takeover XXX Adam Cole Pat McAfee Chairshot Edit

Pat McAfee and Adam Cole shock the world, and NXT Takeover XXX delivers like Takeovers do. What does Greg think?

Welp, another Takeover is upon us, and I am going to compile my thoughts in real time. Right now the Kickoff Preshow hasn’t started, but I am excited about this event. I am friends with someone works in production for NXT, and he said excitement is at a peak level in the building as of this morning. The set-up is rumored to be cool, and I think this event–which I look at as a rebuilding effort for NXT–could still steal the weekend.

Before we get going, I will give you some “pre-thoughts.” I’ll leave them here and we’ll see how dumb I look when this is over:

  • I am surprised by the lack of an Undisputed Era vs. Imperium match. Given the nature of the finish, I can see the justification of a rematch. At the same time, you can use that result as part of a future issue within Undisputed Era. So we’ll see. Sucks for Imperium to be NXT Tag Team Champions and not have a match at Takeover.
  • I am really excited for Adam Cole vs. Pat McAfee. Cole has been at this for a decade, and I bet her never imagined wrestling a former NFL Pro Bowler at Full Sail. Yet here we are. If this match is great, that is a HUGE feather in the cap of Cole, who you know I regard as the best damn wrestler walking God’s green earth.
  • I would have added Rhea Ripley vs. Mercedes Martinez to this show, BUT we also need matches for the weekly TV show on the USA Network. That said, we are also getting Finn Balor vs. Timothy Thatcher, which could be the match of the night.
  • While I think Bronson Reed should win, I expect Damian Priest to become North American Champion tonight. He is a star on the rise.
  • Lastly, I have to admit I don’t have high hopes for Karrion Kross vs. Keith Lee. Kross has been dominant, and now we will see how he fares in an even match-up. I hope I am wrong in these hopes.

NXT Takeover XXX Kickoff

  • Pat McAfee is easily a better heel villain than 95% of the those playing that role on the WWE roster today.
  • I can’t shake the feeling that Karrion Kross is better suited for the “main roster” shows than NXT. But if the plan is to take NXT on the road for TV after this pandemic is over, then I can see him staying. Either way, I can’t see him winning tonight.
  • Correction — I can’t see Keith Lee losing tonight. I think Kross eats his first loss in WWE tonight.
  • Booker T sees a “pro” in Dakota Kai and that’s why he’s picking her. Does that mean he doesn’t see a pro in Io Shirai?
  • I love that Imperium is holding gold across multiple brands.
  • Digging the set with the XXX. Not loving Breezango in this match. It’s hard to take them seriously as a tag team contending for anything.
  • Still surprised we can’t get a NXT Cruiserweight Championship match at Takeover. Santos Escobar has made this championship important–treat it that way!
  • The white ropes with the longer XXX stage/set make this “look bigger.” It’s Full Sail with the fake fans, but it comes off like a bigger deal.
  • Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch might go down as one of the most underrated teams in wresting history.
  • Oh look, Breezango won. Hopefully the match will be good, but I hope they don’t unseat Imperium.

Kickoff Match: Breeango beat Legado del Fantasma and Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch when Tyler Breeze pinned Lorcan to earn an NXT Tag Team Championship match

  • Finn Balor vs. Timothy Thatcher is a hell of a match to start the show. Love that announcement.
  • I know William Regal said McAfee’s buddies (and we’re not focusing enough on them, they have name value) and the rest of Undisputed Era can’t get involved. I really hope they do. This match needs shenanigans.
  • If Adam Cole loses to Pat McAfee, there better be a rematch. Otherwise, what does that say about NXT, WWE, and the business in general? Especially when McAfee, in character, has buried it.

NXT Takeover XXX

  • No one does video packages better than WWE. No one.
  • We got some pyro in Full Sail!
  • Love seeing Corey Graves pair up with Vic Joseph and Beth Phoenix tonight. I am guessing Mauro had another gig.

Finn Balor vs. Timothy Thatcher

  • Finn Balor is a great example of what I’ve been saying about faces and heels not mattering anymore, and it instead being heroes and villains. Thatcher is the villain tonight, and Balor is the hero. But both are heels. And that’s okay.
  • Not gonna lie, I miss the NXT crowd. Even at Full Sail. But imagine this in Boston?
  • Timothy Thatcher might not be the only person in WWE who likes to utilize this style, but he damn sure is the best.
  • Thatcher works a style that could really work on the “main roster.” I know he’s already 37, but I could actually see him pulling off a huge WrestleMania match someday, even as a show closing talent.
  • Starting a single-leg crab, and Thatcher just lays kicks into Finn instead. Damn, dude is SO GOOD. I really hope more people take notice in this match.
  • On the flip said of the Thatcher-WM comments, you have Finn Balor who damn well better close a WrestleMania before he’s done. I hate to say he’s wasted in NXT, but I can’t think of a better word.
  • Balor going over and Thatcher doesn’t even kick out of a finisher–not that he would want to–seems like a missed opportunity. Is losing to Balor really a break-out opportunity like they want us to think?

Finn Balor pinned Timothy Thatcher following 1916

  • Love that Sasha Banks and Bayley are in the crowd, fangirlling, tonight.

North American Championship Ladder Match: Cameron Grimes vs. Bronson Reed vs. Damian Priest vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Velveteen Dream

  • Cameron Grimes strikes me as someone who should be residing in WrestleHouse. I don’t mean he shouldn’t be in NXT, but when he goes home, it should be to WrestleHouse.
  • Beth unintentionally making the comparison between Damian Priest and Razor Ramon is one I can’t disagree with. If he can have that type of WWE career, he will have done well.
  • Also makes sense since I picked Priest, and the North American Championship really is the modern day Intercontinental Championship.
  • “Johnny Gargano calls himself the hero that NXT deserves.” See, Gargano already knows–it’s Heroes vs. Villains!
  • I really wish they had kept Bronson Reed with Malcolm Bivens.
  • I want to love Priest mimicking Razor Ramon, Reed honoring Bam Bam Bigelow and Velveteen Dream channeling Scott Steiner, but let these characters stand on their own.
  • Damian Priest selling that DDT by….crawling out of the ring? Roll Damian. Roll.
  • I know I just criticized him, but Damian Priest could be the best striker in NXT, possibly in WWE.
  • That split spot for Cameron Grimes was creative. And it’s hard to do that in a Ladder Match in 2020.
  • Corey Graves on an NXT broadcast just feels right.
  • This might be the most blueish-purple in any NXT match in history.
  • Bronson Reed really adds an element that NXT has been missing.
  • That was a creative Tower Of Doom spot. And it’s hard to do that in 2020.
  • I really feel for these guys, doing this without a crowd–a crowd that would be on their feet going nuts for this.
  • THICCBOI gonna fly!
  • Cameron Grimes worked really hard to get a ladder into the ring…which already had a ladder in it.
  • A splash from Bronson Reed is bad enough. Throw 110 pounds of Candice LeRae on the back? Ouch.
  • Velveteen Dream is a dumb ass for not realizing the title was up there, and then going LOWER on the ladder before trying to grab it.
  • I feel bad for Damain Priest, having to sell Dream’s superkick that didn’t come within a foot of hitting him.
  • Honestly, Velveteen Dream is the least impressive person in this match.
  • I really wanted someone to stop Cameron Grimes, which means he’s done his job.
  • And despite the weird finish, the right guy wins.

Damian Priest retrieves the belt in a Ladder Match to become the new NXT North American Champion

  • That was one hell of a spot for Velveteen Dream, one you can’t do outside of this environment. I feel like it didn’t get sold long enough–that was a crazy spot!

Adam Cole vs. Pat McAfee

  • Why is the main event going on third?
  • This is when we see just how damn good Adam Cole is. (He’s really damn good, btw.)
  • Pat McAfee not entering vi the backdoor is a missed opportunity.
  • Pat McAfee didn’t have to read his promo. Take that Dominik Mysterio!
  • Matt PacAfee?
  • Having this match start as catch-as-catch-can wrestling kinda proves that Pat McAfee is playing wrestler, AMIRIGHT?
  • War Games 2020?
  • Not gonna lie, Pat McAfee ain’t bad at this.
  • Okay, LOVE Corey Graves pointing out that McAfee has friends to teach him some tricks. Considering one of those main friends is COREY GRAVES.
  • And now Corey Graves is calling out Beth Phoenix contradicting herself. Damn I miss Corey Graves on NXT.
  • PAT MCAFEE CAN PUNCH BETTER THAN MOST OF WWE!
  • Pat McAfee > Dominik Mysterio. Some things can’t be taught.
  • I love seeing Twitter do a complete 180 on Pat McAfee. Great job Adam Cole!
  • Pat McAfee is a goddamned pro wrestler.

Adam Cole pinned Pat McAfee following the Panama Sunrise

  • One thing to keep in perspective here: Corey Graves added SO MUCH to this match on commentary. He’s really grown into one of the best.
  • And you, Adam Cole? Still the greatest wrestler walking God’s green earth.

NXT Women’s Championship: Io Shirai (champion) vs. Dakota Kai (with Raquel Gonzalez)

  • Sucks for these talented women to have to follow that match.
  • I feel bad, I am watching this match (which is good) thinking about how much money Triple H and Vince McMahon need to throw at Pat McAfee.
  • Dakota Kai could be a star. Not sure what she needs to take this to another level, but she’s right on the cusp of stardom.
  • No, not STARDOM. Stardom.
  • Io Shirai might be the best women’s wrestler in the entire world. Might be the second best in the world overall (behind Adam Cole, BAY BAY.)
  • Maybe this match is bringing out what Dakota Kai needs to be a star. She’s killing it.
  • REF BUMP!
  • Could we see Bayley and Sasha here?
  • Nope, just Raquel.

Io Shirai pinned Dakota Kai following a moonsault to retain the NXT Women’s Championship

  • Damn good match that won me over–and that’s saying a lot considering I was still reeling from Cole-McAfee.
  • We gonna use Rhea Ripley to build Raquel Gonzalez now?
  • Tommaso Ciampa returns Wednesday? I guess he’s not seeking retribution after all…
  • Look at Damian Priest stealing Joey Janela’s girl!

NXT Championship: Keith Lee (champion) vs. Karrion Kross

  • Imagine a Karrion Kross entrance at WrestleMania.
  • Glad to see Scarlett finally has the timing of the words down.
  • Karrion Kross’ pyro went off before the match. Using the Kane Principle, that means he’s losing.
  • Can you see The White Rabbit as NXT Champion?
  • I really love how they use the guard rails in this new, Plexiglas environment.
  • This is very much a “main roster” match right here, and that’s appropriate since both men could do well there–if they don’t get lost in the shuffle.
  • Keith Lee has been really…..helpful in this match.
  • Keith Lee for “main roster?”

Karrion Kross pinned Keith Lee following a Doomsday Siato Suplex from the second rope to capture the NXT Championship

  • Don’t love taking the NXT Championship off of Keith Lee this fast, making him a transitional champion. But that might have been the plan all along. Sometimes the title win is someone’s peak, and that might have been it for Keith Lee.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this NXT Takeover. It was really a rebuilding show, but it will be remembered for the Pat McAfee appearance no one saw coming.

 


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