There are at least two concerns with working in the confines of a match calling itself, “The Cage of Death.” One, obviously, is the physical toll. When the match’s moniker sounds like something out of a Mad Max movie, real pain is to be expected. Previous incarnations of the match, dating back to 1999, have been tests of the human threshold for pain. Can you rip your body to pieces in a ‘best-case scenario’ and still put on a satisfying finish?
That first concern flows into the second: the unwritten notion that each Cage of Death must somehow top the previous. There’s enough of a following for Combat Zone Wrestling that its awed acolytes remember the dizzying heights (or carnaged depths) of those bloodstained benchmarks. Can-you-top-this gone berserk.
“We know that we have to step up and we know we have to deliver, because we don’t want this to be that Cage of Death that sucked,” says Sozio, once known as Niles Young. “We also don’t want to get all beat up and cut up and hurt, and people *still* say that it sucked.”
“Ian Knoxx going off the tippy-top of the cage (COD V, 2003) to the floor through just one table. That was scary, having trained and being friends with him. You get close to these people and you see them do this crazy stuff, it’s like watching your brothers basically kill themselves. It’s hard to watch.”
One year later, the Cage of Death almost lived up to its name, as a young Jack Evans demonstrated the hazards of upping the ante for the sake of the show. Sozio recalls it with chilling accuracy.
“Jack Evans’ elimination from the cage came when Chris Ca$h had given him some weird belly-to-back suplex, threw him off the top of the cage, and at the last second Jack kind of grasped the bottom of the cage and I guess broke his fall, because, well, he was somehow alive.”
The video of the incident plays out in its Zapruder-ish, almost underground fight club-like, glory: Ca$h tightropes the apex of the cage with Evans in his grasp. Fans begin buzzing with gasps that turn to screams. Eddie Kingston, teaming with Evans, can be seen steadying the cage wall under the guise of climbing it in order to save his teammate. Ca$h flips Evans, who subtly hooks his fingers into the mesh to take what is a ‘safer’ bump, allowing him to over-rotate for a more controlled landing. Evans’ feet push into the side of the cage, and the daredevil wrestler jackknifes, landing on the floor of the ECW Arena, instead of a conveniently-placed table nearby, lumbar-first. This site’s very webmaster Eric Gargiulo was on headset, along with longtime partner John House, shrieking like banshees as Evans went limp.
“He hit hard, John! He missed the table!,” Gargiulo breathlessly exclaims, while ringside personnel surround Evans. Always one for booming hyperbole, the thudding drop in Gargiulo’s octave underscores the real horror at hand. Fortunately, Evans would turn out to be alright long-term, and took part in all three nights of Ring of Honor’s Anniversary event the following February.
Bumps off the top of the cage, as well as scaffolds. Landings on thumbtacks, broken glass, and barbed wire, or simply the naked irresistance of the bare concrete floor. Each year is a chapter in the CZW Anthology, with Cage of Death its blazing climax. By all accounts, Evans even being able to walk, let alone wrestle again, following his breathtaking fall ten years ago is nothing short of a miracle.
Current NXT hopeful Solomon Crowe (Sami Callihan) crashed through panes of glass with Danny Havoc, blood spilling from multiple wounds in 2009’s spectacle. Havoc was contorted like a rollaway bed in a scaffold drop a year ago, with broken glass again playing a disturbing part.
“As for myself, I know that this is bad for me,” Sozio admits. “I know being 32 years old and doing this for many weekends, month in and month out, it’s not a good idea if I’m looking to live a long and healthy life. Taking that into account while approaching the Cage of Death, it’s difficult. It’s really scary.”
Sozio shares the concerns and the confines with the aforementioned Busick, not to mention the fearless BLK Jeez and decorated technician Drew Gulak this Saturday night, with the championship at stake. Although CZW has its share of gutsy grapplers that shine most in these sorts of bouts, from Devon Moore to “Bulldozer” Matt Tremont to hard-nosed boss DJ Hyde, the four competitors on Saturday are more accustomed to standard wrestling, as opposed to this sort of unforgiving melee.
“Death matches are so unpredictable,” realizes Gulak, one of more promising young stars of the modern independent scene. “It’s one thing to have the danger of taking a bad fall or hurting a joint while wrestling, but adding on top of that elements like the Cage brings a whole new level of danger. I’ve been preparing myself rigorously for the match.”
“Of course I keep the element of danger in perspective, but my goal is always to be entertaining and to give the people their money’s worth, regardless of the circumstances,” says Jeez. “It’s pretty much the same mindset that I always have.”
Despite a decidedly showman’s point of view, Jeez knows the peril firsthand.
“I’ve been in the Cage Of Death before and the other three guys haven’t. I ended up with a concussion and was in lots of pain. I’m expecting the same thing this time.”
Jeez highlights the stark reality of the match in question. Ten years ago, yes, he was concussed during the course of the War Games-style encounter, in the very same bout in which Evans took the scary fall of the cage relayed earlier. Even with multiple wrestlers in the Cage of Death, that doesn’t mean a few are leaving unscathed.
“Injuries will happen regardless, but without trust and safety, things can go really bad, really quickly,” notes Jeez. “Trust is of the utmost importance in a match like this.”
Gulak credits having experienced deathmatch performers at hand to seek advice from, adding, “I am very fortunate to have shared a locker room with people like Danny Havoc, The Wifebeater, Jun Kasai, Nick Mondo, Necro Butcher, New Jack, Zandig; the list goes on. I am always seeking out the console of my peers.”
Busick concurs with Gulak, adding, “I am always interested in learning from those with more experience than me, especially in matches such as this. You can’t know too much.”
Sozio and Busick took part in what could be termed a ‘prelude’ to the Cage of Death on November 1, tangling literally in a barbed wire match in Deer Park, NY. Both individuals lost their share of blood through the course of the bout, before Sozio went over following interference from his fedora’d henchmen, collectively known as “The Front”.
“Barbed wire or a cage filled with hazards, whatever the case it, I approach it like I do any match,” says Busick. “Wrestling is very dangerous whether surrounded by barbed wire or not; it’s all in how you protect each other.”
“It’s going to be difficult, absolutely. Going into the no-rope barbed-wire match with Biff, we hadn’t wrestled each other before, anywhere. To get in there with someone you’ve been helping groom for two years, and you’ve been rooting for him, and now you’re standing across the ring from him and it’s intense. Now we have to cut each other up, and it’s going to be f–king nuts. It’s absolutely insane.”
“(Sozio and I) fought hard in that barbed-wire match,” intones Busick. “The Cage of Death is an even bigger match for all of us, and I hope the fans appreciate our efforts.”
The performers have been quick to note their most serious injuries. Gulak claims his worst was a displaced sacrum, the vertebrae at the base of spine that wedges into the base of the pelvis, creating walking difficulties for him. Jeez admits to unbearably working through a broken ankle and a broken jaw sustained in different matches. This past July in a match with Gulak, Sozio took a backdrop off the top turnbuckle onto six unfolded chairs in the form of a makeshift table, just days after seriously hurting his neck during a routine workout.
The show goes on for all of them, in front of what is expected to be a packed house at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees. With no delusions about the hell they’re in for, the performers are hoping for that best-case scenario.
“As far as best-case scenario, we’ll all still be alive,” says Jeez plainly.
“Best case scenario, we’ll be cut up but nothing serious that needs stitches or serious medical attention,” hopes Sozio. “We’ll be able to walk; we won’t have concussions. Hopefully, everything will pretty much be in tact. When the time comes and we get out there, there’s going to be s–t everywhere, we’re going to get cut up, it’s going to suck, and everyone’s taking a lot of heat.”
“Hopefully, we’ll all be able to hug when we get to the back.”