Are you ready?
When the host for the evening asks you the question you have to say yes. Even though you have no idea what’s going to happen, no clue as to how these players of pavlovian theatre will draw you into their mad, magical world.
I am a wrestling fan, albeit slightly lapsed lately. The most recent Wrestlemania in Florida was watched with my finger firmly on the fast forward button( or the scroll in the case of Dailymotion) Four hours is a huge commitment and not altogether justified for what’s on offer. I often am more entertained by Internet fans decrying the mistreatment of their favourites, than the actual action and storylines. I daresay it keeps Vince McMahon up on many a night, trying to figure out a means of monetizing these informal Facebook fan pages.
All this means that I am, on the whole, disenchanted by the sports entertainment experience. I have gone through these stages in my life a few times. In my early teens, maybe 1994, our housing estate lost Sky One for a year and by the time it came back all WWF action had been moved to the Sky Sports channels( bar maybe one lousy hour of kid-friendly stuff on Sunday afternoon). This obviously had an effect on my engagement.
I think I rediscovered my interest around late 1996. Word of mouth, positive feedback by the true believers( and those with access to a Sky digital box) Since then it’s been very much peaks and troughs. Like any long running saga of television if you stick around long enough you will be prone to repetition. Nothing as bad as seeing the same thing over and over again.
Why is all this relevant? Well because I am pretty sure I’m speaking for many like-minded folk when I say that I still want to feel that magic every now and again. There remains that intangible, impossible to explain, buzz that comes from a live wrestling show. On a screen in your living room is good enough, but to be there in person? Wow!
OTT( Over the Top) is a wrestling promotion based in Dublin, whose product is heavily focused on the more mature, discerning fan. They are about five years in now I reckon. Their home turf is the old Tivoli theatre in Francis Street. Those of an ECW disposition might consider this their Philadelphia Spectrum. Over the last few years, the company have gradually built upon the solid foundations laid by Mainstage, Irish Whip and Wresling.IE amongst others. Domestic and British talent have competed in contests that aren’t exactly run of the mill.
There is a certain expectation that the OTT crowd has. To me the origins of the company was borne out of a desire for a more hardcore product, with cooler, more three dimensional characters and tougher, in ring action( though blading and excessive violence is rare). Mic time is a key component of whether a wrestler will be successful. Can he or she make that connection with the crowd. Coarse language is not only welcomed but encouraged. Also as an extension pre-recorded video packages are often leaked on social media in the weeks building up to a big event. These are often zero budget and hilarious.
For all this though, there seems to be an acknowledgment amongst the company’s owners that comedy and colloquial chants will only get you so far. And with the onset of the internet and fans having access to action the world over, professional wrestling has now become a far more international and artistic affair.
Since the late 70s, Japan has been the undisputed second kingdom of wrestling. Perhaps the mecca if you’re talking to certain people. Stars such as Antonio Inoki, Jushin Liger and Tiger Mask have built a cult following over here while creating enormous fan bases at home. In that time they’ve welcomed a host of North American based talent into their ranks, either on a touring or more long term basis. Notable successes here would be Stan Hansen, Dynamite Kid, Owen Hart, Chris Benoit and even Hulk Hogan who was always greeted with appreciation( not least because he gave it a little bit more over there)
The cross-pollination of Japanese and North American wrestling has always interested me. WCW made a few decent stabs at it in the 1990s but ultimately couldn’t sustain the impact due to being an absolute basket-case of a business. In the modern era though there are only two words you need to remember when it comes to the West invading the East.
But more of them later. Believe me, they won’t be ignored or overshadowed.
In the past few years, friendships have been made and reputations solidified to the point that performers more used to crowds of 60,000 in Tokyo, New York and beyond now consider Dublin to be a key area in the world map of professional wrestling. No doubt, we can’t compete with stadium-sized crowds(yet) but for enthusiasm, we certainly can.
So to Scrappermania and OTT’s maiden journey onto the wider expanses of the national stadium on the South Circular Road. The famous old boxing arena, being utilized due to its increased capacity, has surely never seen such a night of wild, inexplicable pleasure. Upon arrival, myself and my buddy Niall are told by the taxi driver that the queue was three times as long an hour previous. It is about 7.15pm and there’s about twenty minutes to first bell. Most are settling into their seats, many others queuing for beer. I am already buzzing at that this point, alcohol would help but if doesn’t happen, it won’t bother me none.
The master of ceremonies is Aengus McInally junior, whipping the crowd up into a frenzy they are halfway to already. Surely his dad never saw such rabid patronage back in the Irish masters days at Goffs?
The first match sees Grado defeat Charlie Sterling. Grado is kind of a comedy act who has developed a huge following that now far extends his original Scottish base. Despite all the tomfoolery, he is actually a decent hand, as they say. We don’t get to see much evidence of this here as the contest turns into a bit of a farcical affair. Sterling is slightly de-robed for much of the match, inviting the crowd to replace their ‘we want Brexit’ chants with ‘pull your jocks up’. In the end Grado wins, Madonna plays and we’re warming up nicely.
The next few fights are good enough. Jigsaw beats Scotty in a solid enough featherweight encounter. The exchanges are chained together well and the crowd acknowledges the artistic merit with applause. Paul Tracey, the Lord of the Manor and one of my favourites brings his old school heelwork to bear on the crowd. Tracey is made wait a ridiculous length of time by Jurn Simmons, a Dutchman with an affection for epic 80s rock and a chest as hirsute as any Fabulous Freebird could wish for. The Dutchman wins.
The Gym Nasties then face up against their former friend Justin Shape and his new partner Logan Bryce. I am kind of disappointed to see Bryce has temporarily shelved his Leinster rugby fan gimmick. Here he and Shape wear black. It is a solid match, with only an occasional botch. But the crowd are with it.
Next out is the ladies six women tag match featuring Session Moth and champion Katey Harvey. The Moth is majorly over these days. Glow sticks are handed out amongst the fans and the scene is immense. The Moth and her partners win but their celebratory rave is cut short by a shocking heel turn. My key takeaway here is that Katey Harvey is an excellent worker. I already knew Session Moth was.
The next one I nearly totally miss. Toilet time beckons and the queues are oh so long. I hear the oohs and the aahs behind me and curse my weak bladder. By the time I return from the bar it feels like I have been missing for an hour and the Lads from the Flats are all but finished against the Kings of the North. This is a contest that has seen so many iterations down the years. Martin and Workie have not always been slack jawed junkies in Adidas tracksuit bottoms. Time was they were as earnest as a couple of 1997 era Hardy boys with arguably brighter tights. I love everything these two do. I can’t think of the amount of times they mesmerised me in the likes of Good Counsel and Drimnagh. It’s a beautiful thing to see that while the costumes have changed, they remain as tight and as watchable as ever. So many high spots, so much agility. They are now joined by a third disciple in Paddy M. He has won the crowd over the past year or so. Corvin, Bonesaw and Dunkan Disorderly bring the power from the North but it’s a perfect clash of styles. I could watch them forever but of course I can’t. The northies win, which shocks the home support. But maybe they deserve a big show win at this stage.
We’re getting into the bewitching hours now. Maybe three hours in. I should be bored out of my tree but the double rums are working their magic and Marty Scurll is up next, Scurll wears his ROH TV title down to the ring which really adds an aura of class to proceedings. He fights a New Zealander called Jay White who reminds me a bit of Kerry Von Erich. This is a very classy affair and feels like the match of the night. There is a quality here that really shines through. You can tell the pair know each-other well. Scurll wins the match and in me, a new fan.
Angel Cruz fights Zack Gibson, a lad from Liverpool, loses. It is pretty well received and a nice warmer upper before the big one. On we go.
Finally it is the turn of Uptown Funk against the Bullet Club. Now I say the Bullet Club, but obviously not every member is here. Still we have three of them and they are great. The Elite Squad are hilarious but technically excellent and Kenny Omega is a Canadian superstar in every sense of the word. He carries himself like the lead singer of a super cool rock band and one can only imagine he would have his pick of any ring rat, if he wasn’t happily married. The match itself is very special. A thirty odd minute stunt fest which is as dynamic and rapid as nothing you will see on Monday Night Raw. Smiley, Will Osprey and Lio Rush set a ferocious pace all the way through and it’s a great tribute to the audience that none of the six phone this in. Why would they, when it’s been shown on ppv all around the world?
The Bullet Club get the decision but Uptown Funk are perhaps only a handful of cheers behind on the audience scorecard. The night isn’t over yet. Smiley insists on a dance off which even Omega engages in. Soon, the ring is full with the night’s other talents now inside, enjoying one last dance off. Seemingly disgusted by all this sentimentality the Bullet Club revert to type and super kick everyone out of the ring. The stage is theirs alone.
Overall the night has to be seen as a rousing success. Scrappermania as an entity has surely cemented it’s place as Ireland’s big night of squared circle action. In the end all tastes were catered to. The local talent remains a key factor and while it’s no guarantee they could have sold 2200 seats without Omega’s name on the card, it’s been clear for the past year or so that OTT are outgrowing their beloved Tivoli.
The groundwork that has been laid the past few years is phenomenal. The team have put on some great shows. They’ve fought in rocker bars and fringe festivals, gathering a groundswell of support to add to their hardcore base. The production too has also improved vastly since my days as a humble ringside cameraman with Mainstage. Now not only is the event filmed by a proper professional crew, the entrance ramp is often illuminated by a decent amount of pyro as well two big screens to display the latest promo offering. Last night it was on these very screens I learned that none other than Mick Foley himself will be making a guest appearance in the next big show in August.
This is a genuinely great time to be watching wrestling in Ireland. I looked around last night and wished I was a bit younger and had just a few less commitments, thereby allowing me to immerse more in this madness. But the key takeaway for me is this. OTT is very much on the map and I have no idea how big they can get.
Some good related linkage
1.For a proper review of the show, check these guys out. I used to know all the names of the moves. But we’re a long way from cobra clutches and figure fours these days. These lads will more than cover my shortcomings.
- The OTT twitter page is a great resource for Fan footage, wrestler retweets and other general updates
- If WWE’s network of old Koko B.Ware matches ain’t doing it for you, perhaps check out FloSlam. This is basically where to go for news, views and all things international wrestling has to offer.