Monday 12 January 2015

2014 - The Wrestlers

Disclaimer: There has been a plethora of End Of Year Awards, some good, some not so good. I would highly recommend checking out Breaking Baws "Golden Baws" podcast for probably the best example of doing it right. Anyway, this short series of posts is not an Awards post, rather it is simply me taking a moment to look back at the wrestlers, promotions, shows and events that stuck out at me over the previous twelve months.

I will have omitted a lot of people no doubt so do not take this as a definitive "Best Of", just a selection of highlights from 2014 before A Wee Bit About moves into the new year with a new focus - but more on that later. For now, here is to 2014!

The Wrestlers

First and foremost, I'm going to talk about the Wrestlers that have made an impact on me this year, because without the guys and gals in the ring what is the point in all this?

The wrestlers I don't enjoy watching are few and far between, so to try and name everyone I have enjoyed this year would be redundant. Instead I'm going to throw out a few names that I think either have been overlooked a little this year or just truly gave me a lot of entertainment and enjoyment at every show.

First of all, lets talk about The Gatecrashers. Having started the year with bang by coming out on video in January, Christopher Saynt was still off my radar for most of the year, wrestling in SWE and SWA while a natural feud with David The Beloved seemed to be getting the stop/start treatment in ICW. It was frustrating stuff for me as I had seen Saynt a few times in 2013 and was looking forward to more. But then the stars aligned. During the Summer, Saynt began teaming up with Dave Conrad as The Gatecrashers. I had the pleasure of seeing them away back in June for SWA, which was my first SWA show to boot, and experienced firsthand the vicious new attitude of Saynt and Conrad. From there I've seen them at Source, Pride and ICW, each time they are going from strength to strength.

Speaking of strength - Dave Conrad is one of the most impressive men I've ever seen in that regard. Some of the things he is doing right now simply blows me away. I'm going to be bold here but by the end of 2015 I predict people will be referring to him as the British Cesaro.

While Dave provides enough physicality for the pair of them, Saynt has found his strength is in his voice. Constantly riling up both opponents and fans, Christopher Saynt's even taken his talents to the Fierce Females promotion, running the show lately as Mikey Whiplash's General Manager, and he has fit into that role absolutely perfectly. With his sharp wits and total comfort within his own skin, Saynt provides a great bridge between segments at Fierce Females and perfectly compliments Dave Conrad's incredible strength as part of a tag team. After a handful of defeats, The Gatecrashers ended 2014 with a win at ICW's "Spacebaws Episode 5" event, and have built upon that already with a victory at the first show of 2015, Source's "Showcase 5" event. With momentum on their side, I am incredibly excited for the future of these two.

The Gatecrashers (Facebook) - Dave Conrad (l) & Christopher Saynt (r)

Speaking of Fierce Females, there is actually a third member of The Gatecrashers, and her name is Courtney. With a background in dancing, boxing and kickboxing, Courtney made the transition over to wrestling complete this year with her debut in SWA at February's "War Of Independence" event. It was April's relaunch of the Fierce Females company that first drew my attention to Courtney, where she got a somewhat shock victory over Fiona Fraser. This set off a feud that lasted for the rest of the year, culminating in a Three Stages Of Hell match at November's "Come And Say G'Day". I am a huge fan of both women, and covered this feud at length every step of the way. Although Courtney got the victory in the end, I know that with Fiona's drive to succeed both ladies have a bright future ahead.

This feud between them was enthralling from start to finish, but they have done much more over the course of 2014, particularly at SWA. Wherever you get a chance to check them out, I'd recommend catching both and watching as they continue to grow in the ring. Overlooked for some of the bigger name feuds such as BT Gunn vs Wolfgang and Jack Jester vs Drew Galloway, if you are a fan of long-form storytelling, these women told a great story over the course of 2014.

Fiona Fraser (l) (Facebook) & Courtney (r) (Facebook)

For pure wrestling this year, we have been spoiled. Joe Coffey continued his 2013 journey with James Scott, winning the Iron Man match at January's ICW "Square Go" event, gaining the upper hand in their epic war and earning a new identity at the same time.

Building upon this victory, Coffey retired "James Scott" (more on that to come), debuted many new faces and entrances (including coming to the ring while playing Black Sabbath's Iron Man on the guitar!), took on and and defeated Noam Dar in a Best Of Five series, has put on masterclasses against the likes of Dave Mastiff and Jack Gallagher, gained the SWA Scottish Heavyweight title in a cage match against Mikey Whiplash, lost it to Doug Williams in a dubious manner that has created a huge rift between him and his brother Mark Coffey, and has been scratching around the ICW main event scene, particularly in Edinburgh for some reason. In short, 2014 has been in many ways Joe Coffey's year. That is, until 2015 rolls around.

Already set to defend his Iron Man moniker at the Square Go in January, Joe also won ICW's "Wrestler Of The Year" award and as such will gain a title shot at March's "Barramania" event as ICW return to the hallowed Barrowlands venue. Gaining the ICW Heavyweight title in front of a crowd of 1000+ would surely be one of the few ways Joe could top what has been an amazing 2014. Joe Coffey has easily entertained me at every turn and his match is easily the most talked about on any card between me and my friends, both before and after every event. I'm sure we're not alone in that regard.

Joe Coffey (Twitter)

There are a ton of other great wrestlers that deserve a mention here. Noam Dar (Facebook) has had a fire lit under him at ICW, speaking with such passion and creating in-ring magic with Coffey in particular, but it was his showing at PWE's "Fallen Angel" event back in September that really impressed me. I've spoke about it a bit here already, but basically Noam put on two Match Of The Year candidates in one night using two completely different styles of wrestling. Insane. On top of that, he was easily one of the more impressive candidates on TNA's British Bootcamp 2, giving him some great exposure to a worldwide audience.

Jack Gallagher (Twitter) has been a revelation, whether it was at ICW or SWA, being a heel or being a good guy, winding up Whiplash or tying up with Yusaku Obata, the man from Manchester has been a real standout to me. Although he has been wrestling for many years, due to his globetrotting nature (and the fact it took me a while to check out SWA) I hadn't heard of him before seeing him live. He has definitely been the best surprise I've found this year.

But in terms of pure wrestling, I've got to give the nod to Mikey Whiplash. Having a less than stellar start to 2014, Whiplash shed the gimmick and made splashes in PROGRESS as Michael Gilbert, culminating in November's "Chapter 16" event which saw him take El Ligero out of his comfort zone and into a brutal street fight. As a promoter, Mikey has rejuvenated his Fierce Females company, which has went from strength to strength in 2014, building upon a stable foundation of storylines and characters, the Scottish ladies working side-by-side with the best of British and international female stars, and getting nothing but rave reviews from all comers.

With the great year Mikey has had behind the scenes, it is kind of incredible that he has found time to produce what in my eyes were four absolute masterclasses in four very different arenas. For SWA, there were his incredibly breathtaking performances versus Ryouji Sai in Cumbernauld, versus Jack Gallagher in Motherwell, and versus Tommy End in Paisley. With his return to ICW, Whiplash gave us an awe inspiring match versus Darkside in Edinburgh.

No matter where it is held, in 2015 whenever I see Mikey Whiplash on a bill I'm going to move heaven and earth to be there. There are various cliched phrases that could be used here - slow and steady wins the race, etc - but truly looking at where Whiplash was at in the first quarter of 2014 and where he is now, the wait has been worth it both to see him back in an ICW ring, to see Fierce Females grow into the Walkabout venue and to see his breathtaking appearances in SWA, all three have been a joy to behold.

Mikey Whiplash (Facebook)

Now I normally focus on the Scottish wrestling scene, but this year I have made a real effort to keep up with New Japan Pro Wrestling. Particular kudos go out to one international friend who has really kept me in the loop with the ongoing storylines (thanks Brad!), but great wrestling truly transcends story and language barriers. It is the wrestlers in and of themselves who tell the story in the ring.

Two men in particular have stood out to me and both spent a third of the year battling over the NEVER Openweight title. Those men are Tomohiro Ishii and Tetsuya Naito. Ishii is essentially a bulldog in wrestling form, headbutting and suplexing his opponents all over the place. Naito may initially look like any other feather-haired high-flier, but what really impressed me with these two both in their February and April fights, were how they stood toe-to-toe and gave each other no edge.

Ishii ended the year as the NEVER champion but en route he severely damaged his shoulder. Although fighting through it has earned him huge respect from fans, I for one hope he takes the time off necessary to properly recuperate. At 39 years of age, fighting as strong a style as he does, it would be a shame to end his career with a lifelong injury.

Naito on the other hand, at 32, needs to ramp up the energy in his career. As well as the NEVER belt, Naito has tasted tag-team gold, but he is only ever on the cusp of the upper scene. He got victories over Okada and AJ Styles during the G1 tournament, but outwith of that he has come up short in every major singles match of 2014. Despite that fact, I'm still rooting for Naito and hope that him planting his feet at the end of the year and standing up to AJ Styles' Bullet Club, sets up big things over the course of 2015.

Tetsuya Naito (l) (Twitterand Tomohiro Ishii (r) (NJPW Database)

As I touched upon before, 2014 was very much the year of Fierce Females. You could easily call the promotion's year a tale of two halves. A lot of praise is being heaped upon the resurgence of the brand since moving to the Walkabout venue in Glasgow, but for me the earlier shows at the Source school were entirely captivating on their own merits, due to the engaging stories told by Carmel & Sara as they took on Viper, The Owens Twins and seemingly the entire world, and as previously mentioned, the emerging feud between Courtney and Fiona Fraser.

But one woman's tale stood head and shoulders above the rest as the story that defined early 2014 for me and that was the coming of age of Sammii Jayne. In the short space of two events, Sammii had risen to become number one contender to the Fierce Females title and took part in a war with Kay Lee Ray that reached out beyond the ring and into the streets. From there, Sammii launched herself into an epic winning streak, taking out Liberty, Nixon, Lana Austin and Bete Noire.

The sky is the limit as Sammii springs into 2015 - and speaking of springing, her finisher (a twisting neckbreaker from the apron over the ropes) is simply awe-inspiring and something I look forward to seeing every time. In the more intimate venues, small parts of Sammii's personality really come into play, her mannerisms engaging in a way unlike anyone I have seen before besides Nikki Storm. She has a way of getting the crowd immediately involved whether it is behind her as an underdog against Kay Lee Ray, or immediately behind her opponent due to her "better than thou" attitude, Jayne knows how to engage with the crowd and has the skills in the ring to back it up.

Sammii Jayne (r) (Facebook) here against Nixon (l) (Facebook)

As I said at the outset, if I were to list every single wrestler who impressed me in 2014 we would be here forever, so I'm going to wrap things up with the final two. First up, bridging the Scottish scene with New Japan and WWE is Fergal Devitt, now wrestling as Finn Balor. Where to even begin?

Starting the year with NJPW's "Wrestle Kingdom 8" event, Devitt came to the ring with his face and body painted up, a theme he continued throughout the year, appearing as Venom, The Joker and Freddy Kreuger among many others, culminating in his much lauded entrance at WWE NXT's "R Evolution" event. These designs and entrances have had many fans, myself included, sitting at the edge of our seat for even an image of them appearing online. This level of showmanship is often missing in a lot of wrestlers, even those who are fully accomplished in the ring.

Make no mistake, Devitt is not using theatrics to cover up anything in-ring. His abilities are phenomenal and I have had the pleasure of seeing him live many times this year. I have covered a lot of his ICW days in other articles, but I also got to see him take on Kid Fite for the BCW Heavyweight title. Whether it was for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title, the PROGRESS title, the BCW Heavyweight title, the ICW Heavyweight title, the ICW Zero-G title, or just for the pleasure of the crowd in front of him, seeing Devitt both live and on video during 2014 has been a real highlight. He is in many ways the complete package - physique, charisma and genuine likability. One specific highlight has to have been at ICW's "Still Smokin" event in March, wherein Devitt appeared from nowhere right in front of our eyes, like a modern mat magician. That feeling of excitement and wonder is what makes wrestling larger than life to me. Too often shows feel like cookie-cutter events, the pre-determined nature of the results plain for all to see. Devitt always made me believe that anything could happen, anywhere and at any time.

Finn Balor (as Fergal Devitt, with the ICW Zero-G title) (Twitter)

Now we reach the end, but... am I going to do it? Can I really be that cheesy? Of course I can.....!

Article Subject To Change, Fuckers!

My final entry on this list goes to The New Age Kliq (NAK) both as a unit and individually. Having held the ICW Tag Team titles three times last year, The NAK more than left their mark on the tag team scene. But each of the four members did something this year to turn me around from being a staunch opponent of them to now adding them into my favourite wrestlers of 2014.

Lets talk about Darkside first of all. Before becoming a member of The NAK, "James Scott" competed in an incredible series with Joe Coffey over who is the real Iron Man of ICW. That series came to an abrupt halt as James announced his retirement, sucking in everyone who had ever wanted him to win or lose, leading to a unanimous outpouring of support for the man. These good feelings were ruined as he was later reborn as Darkside. This sudden change of heart is right up there with Kay Lee Ray for one of the most shocking moments of 2014, but I will be covering that in another article.

In-ring, both during his pre-Darkside days and with a whole other dimension as he became an even more arrogant version of himself, Darkside has never ceased to entertain me. Siding with Dickie Divers against the Sumerian Death Squad along with battling for the ICW Heavyweight title against both Jack Jester and Joe Coffey were particularly highlights for me, but as I already mentioned his match with Mikey Whiplash at ICW's "Fear & Lothian II" event was easily one of the best of the year, criminally overlooked by too many during the hangover from Fear & Loathing. On one final note, his insults to the crowd would easily dominate the top spots of any compiled list.

Darkside (Twitter)

Next up is Dickie Divers. That a man we all love to hate would be getting the biggest cheers at several points this year speaks volumes for his in-ring work rate. Despite his best efforts, there have been times where you simply can't not respect the man although, crucially as a heel, he in no way panders to the crowd. One of my favourite Divers moments was his handling of a particularly mouthy chap (who wasn't me for a change) in Edinburgh at "Fear & Lothian II". I can't remember the ins and outs of the exchange, just that Dickie fully got the better of him, and it is little moments like that which has seen respect for Divers emanate throughout the crowd in 2014.

His rise from being a wanker with a face you wouldn't get tired of slapping, to the man being chanted for from the queue long before the start of the biggest show of the year at ICW's "Fear & Loathing VII", has been a natural one filled with a ton of nuanced little details. His incredibly selling and facial expressions (hold the jokes), particularly when taking Stevie Boy's Canadian Destroyer move, is incredibly believable. His offense is also strong as all hell - I swear his 'RKO Outta Nowhere!" at SWA's "Aftermath" show in Paisley would put Orton to shame.

On top of that, there have been great moments of building an underdog story while maintaining that aura of "that smug bastard from The NAK". Look at his dynamics with brethren Chris Renfrew - the pinnacle of their love/hate relationship coming to a climax at the Leeds event, "Lucy In The Sky With Divers", with Renfrew setting his pal up with a so-called gift in the form of Johnny Moss. Still, even with little moments like that building sympathy for him, I was incredibly surprised at the ovation he got from his impromptu title match during the Summer with ICW Heavyweight Champion Jack Jester. The crowd genuinely seemed to split into two distinct camps and for the first time vocally got behind Dickie.

These little moments have created an incredibly interesting dynamic when it comes to Dickie Divers. He is without doubt the one most likely to interfere in a match and scupper it on behalf of The NAK, but on the other hand he is being touted as a fan favourite choice for potential Square Go winner, which would create even more tension between him and Renfrew no matter what happens in January. For all the little things (that pink hair for a start!) I have enjoyed both loving and hating Dickie a ton this year and look forward to whatever 2015 might bring for him.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is BT Gunn. Although Divers is a master of the little things, BT Gunn has arguably been involved in the biggest moments in ICW in 2014 and it is these moments that have me lauding the man. From the huge throw off the ABC raised area in March courtesy of Wolfgang, to what I consider the pinnacle death-defying moment as both went over the top rope during their Dog Collar match in August, BT Gunn vs Wolfgang has provided me my top two scariest moments of 2014, yet two moments I can't help but replay.

The feud continues to this day and while it is the bigger moments that stick in the mind, Gunn's performance has not been without small moments that stick in the mind. Offering a handshake to his cousin. Wrapping his knee in chain. That rolling kick he does on the mat gets me every time. BT Gunn has been a master of both small and large moments in ICW the past year.

That is just his singles action in one company, but BT has also been a master of the tag team scene across the length of Scotland. As a collective with The NAK, BT Gunn has held the ICW tag team belts three times this year, but he also captured the inaugural PWE tag team titles in September with Chris Renfrew. Over on both PBW and BCW, as part of the team "Just Uz" with Stevie (Boy) Xavier, BT has made a combined FOURTEEN title defenses. In doing so, he managed something I thought would have been impossible - he managed to overshadow my ecstatic joy at seeing El Ligero live for the first time by working as such a cohesive unit with Stevie to thrill me to no end.

Seeing Just Uz live once again is probably my main motivation for returning to BCW shows and the possible culmination of his feud with Wolfgang inside a steel cage in January is easily the most anticipated match of 2015 in my eyes. Successfully spinning several plates as singles and tag champions (BT spent much of the year as the Target Wrestling champion) BT Gunn has proven himself without doubt as a master of the art.

Chris Renfrew (l) (Facebook) & Dickie Divers (r) (Facebook)
BT Gunn (front) (Facebook)

Now we reach the absolute end - Chris Renfrew. To put this fully into context, here is a man who I swore prior to 2014 I would never cheer. The man who caned our beloved Mark Dallas. The guy who led BT Gunn and Dickie Divers into tormenting ICW. The utter villain who led an attack on the female members of the roster in the name of "equality". Chris Renfrew, the man who started the year by screwing Grado out of his well-earned title shot. I bloody hated Chris Renfrew.

But slowly something began to change, and it was mostly down to the words coming out of his mouth. See Renfrew has always been passionate in his promos, but prior to 2014 to me it seemed like anger and violence for the sake of destruction, dulling his message to a loud abrasive drone. However as the year progressed, I began to actually hear his words and understand what was being said.

He had interviews, online and in print, and what I read spoke to what I felt. Drew Galloway came back to ICW and as I was thinking "this wasn't his choice", there was Chris Renfrew saying it out loud. When the violence of Fear & Loathing VII got too much in my eyes for BT Gunn and Wolfgang, everyone was still clamouring, seething at the mouth, for Chris Renfrew to cash in. I was wondering if Gunn and Wolfgang were going to be okay, and sure enough at the next event, Renfrew tore apart his own fans for their attitude towards him and his brother BT. With each passing week the words were making more and more sense and mirrored what I was feeling.

It won't forgive what, in my opinion, were the errors of the past, but I can't deny that deep down inside some of what Chris Renfrew had been saying resonated with me, at least in some small part, all along. Now, his words seem to be fully in sync with what I want to say.

But while Renfrew rightly gets a huge amount of respect for what he says on a microphone or has written down on paper (I am always hoping to read more from him in Enter The ICW or Snapmare Necks, truth be told), he is no slouch in the ring. His physique has improved massively over the course of the year, and whether teamed up with his NAK brethren or on his own, he has genuinely produced some of the most captivating performances. The tag team matches against The Buckys, Sumerian Death Squad and Londrick are far too numerous to mention, and seeing him in a different environment at Pride was a joy in itself, but for me it is the matches he has been involved in with the likes of Yum Yum and Lou King Sharp that really draw me to Renfrew as a performer.

A man of his stature could easily squash younger, less experienced talent but even in defeating them, Chris Renfrew elevates his opponents. Say what you like about his more questionable actions, his grace against these younger talents is something to behold.

Respect is something Chris Renfrew has been all about in 2014. Giving respect to Carmel on the mic. Begrudgingly giving respect to Lou King Sharp for his never-say-die attitude. Demanding respect for ICW from everyone, even taking his own fans to task when the situation calls for it. I have a hell of a lot of respect for Chris Renfrew for it all.

From the crazy (that Geordie Rules match) to the other brand of crazy (the six man Street Fight in Edinburgh will stay with me forever), from the 'big' (that four way match with Jack Jester, Sabu and Wolfgang) to the 'small' (facing Lou King Sharp at both PWE and ICW), I have loved watching Chris Renfrew month in and month out in 2014 and I for one have been converted into backing him as he finally gets the title shot he has been teasing all year.

Crucially however, I have been converted without Chris Renfrew even once compromising who and what he is. He has been himself, and in wrestling that speaks volumes, more than any promo ever could.

Thank you very much for reading what has essentially been one long opinion piece. I am always interested to hear other opinions, so whether you agreed or disagreed with my thoughts, or just feel there is a more deserving wrestler I have upsettingly missed out, you can send an email to, get me on Twitter (@AWBAblog) or comment at the (still relatively shiny and new) Facebook (/AWBAofficial) page for A Wee Bit About.

I will be doing a few more of these 2014 "look back" articles before moving on with the year, so if there is anything in particular you are looking from AWBA in 2015 again send me a message on one of the above methods.

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