Had I been wearing a No Fear shirt, and been dreading the return to school after Christmas break, it would have felt even more like 1995.
It should be said that the arena, after a slew of renovations, doesn’t quite look like its old self. There are unfinished sidebars to the left and right, as well as an unfamiliar straight-on entrance way across from the hard camera. Not hearing Joey Styles’ voice, instead that of the also-bespectacled Joe Dombrowski, took a little getting used to as well.
There were familiar faces in other places, however. Stevie Richards, the year-long champion of the promotion, successfully defended his gold against a mystery opponent, former ECW Champion-turned-indy nuisance Steve Corino. Corino, if nothing else, served great once more as a self-assured antagonist before being downed by his fellow alumnus.
The other familiar sights rolled through the blood-tinted Viewmaster. Sabu was throwing chairs and diving to the concrete floor. Balls Mahoney remained engaged in his fearless brawling. Super Crazy was tasked with topping the aerial festivities of earlier in the night, but came through. Rhino and Devon Storm nearly pulverized each other (Rhino landed a plancha on Storm, who was laid on a length of railing at one point, a real eye opener). The Blue Meanie took part in his standard comedy match to open the show.
Even John Bailey, the longtime Philadelphia fan with the straw hat and Hawaiian shirt, appeared in the front row, even getting to cut a brief promo.
No doubt, there was plenty of ‘extreme’ moments from the recognizable faces. For as well executed as those were, it’s the ‘rising’ that ended up being more intriguing.
The big mistake of Shane Douglas’ April 2012 attempt at extreme resuscitation, aka Extreme Reunion, was loading the show with stars who’d seen better days in the ring, like “The Franchise” himself. Douglas made amends by injecting new blood throughout the year such as Matt Hardy, Luke Hawx, and Homicide, and the quality of the shows increased.
It was that very “Rising” that stood out even moreso on Saturday night.
One of the most underrated and underappreciated independent talents took part in what I feel was the night’s best match. I first watched “The Greek God” Papadon wrestle this past April in front of a sparse crowd in Clayton, NJ. His opponent that night was former TNA X Division wrestler Tony Nese, and for well over 20 minutes, the two engaged in a show-stealing epic of innovation and near falls.
If you’ve never seen Papadon, he’s technically precise, and naturally conveys arrogance. Unlike a lot of independent wrestlers, he never overdoes anything, and the result is an optimum performance each time. How he’s been off certain radars for so long is a mystery.
Booked against Hijo del Rey Misterio (the cousin of the current WWE star), Papadon meshed his seamless science against Misterio’s daredevil style, essentially playing Dean Malenko to Misterio’s famous namesake. Papadon won with a Paul Orndorff-piledriver, but not before he and Misterio wowed the Philly faithful.
Misterio wasn’t the only new age high flyer in action. A man known simply as Facade, but flanked with other colorful nicknames (“The Neon Ninja”, “The Aerial Arsonist”), took on Sabu in what was billed as a classic battle of the old vs. the new. If you’ve never seen Facade, he’s an X Division wet dream, framed with blonde dreadlocks that make him look like a Milli Vanilli/Jeff Hardy hybrid.
The 49-year-old Sabu, for his part, was on his game, making no discernable mistakes, while engaging Facade with hardcore give-and-take. Sadly, Facade didn’t bust out his deadliest weapon, a headlock-backflip driver, but he took Sabu’s barrage of punishment, including chairs, a wooden shank to the scalp that drew blood, before being finished with two Arabian Facebusters (one through a table). Afterward, the standard “show of respect for the loser” took place, with the crowd giving their appreciation for Facade’s gallant showing.
Luke Hawx’s name was mentioned among Douglas’ reinforcements last year. Like Papadon, he’s another indy standout that unfortunately hasn’t gotten a golden ticket to the national stage. An imposing fighter out of New Orleans, Hawx compliments a solid in-ring game with abrasive, obscenity-laden mic work, not unlike his South Philly forebears.
His endless jawing through social media with former WWE mainstay Matt Hardy made their match Saturday a must-see. An early show angle added a twist: the match between Bayou brawler Hawx and the polarizing Hardy would be inside a steel cage.
The final match of the night, there were issues assembling the cage (between 25-30 minutes of setting up and then readjusting, and even then it looked crooked), but when the match began, it ended up a mix of WWE-style cage matches (set up, big spot, set up, big spot) and the old-school, hate-filled fights that steel cages were designed for.
Hawx impressively landed a Blockbuster (Buff Bagwell’s flipping neckbreaker) off the cage onto Hardy. After interference from Homicide and Hardy’s wife, the sultry Reby Sky, Hawx executed his iconoclastic mission with a top rope legdrop, after Hardy had been collared with a steel chair.
The ending angle of the night saw Richards enter the cage and dole out four Stevie Kicks: for Homicide, Hawx, Hardy, and one for Reby as an emphatic punctuation to the night. The message is unmistakable: those three are next in line for shots at the Extreme Rising gold, even though none took part in the classic Paul Heyman-helmed ECW.
For Extreme Rising to thrive, and I sure as hell hope it does, it’ll be about providing the alternative for the masses ailing from the watered down national product.
To be that alternative that everybody clamors for, that would invoke more nostalgic warmth than any steel chair to the skull ever could.