Hello everyone, I am former SoCalUncensored writer Jay Doring, and I am thrilled to be making my return to professional wrestling review on this site, which was the home of some of my fondest pro wrestling memories.
I wrote for this site from 2006 – 2008, during what I felt was a golden age of independent wrestling – Pro Wrestling Guerrilla was catching fire in online circles with a mix of blossoming local talent and many globally prominent names that now ply their trade in World Wrestling Entertainment (and soon, All Elite Wrestling). Beyond PWG, many other promotions (AWS, EWF, EPIC WAR, the NWA/Inoki Dojo hybrid promotions) were developing stars that now headline top independents today. Throughout my travels in the region (sometimes with Paul Newberry), indy wrestling halls were the only place that felt like family during a time I was very alone.
I’ve been returning to SoCal sporadically the past few years as some of my family has moved here, and I was lucky enough to see the first-ever G1 Special and the Survivor Series quad-shot, but this visit was my first opportunity to check out the SoCal independent scene. My first show this week is Bar Wrestling, which I’ve followed online and have been dying to check it out in person. Since PWG has moved to a “premium exclusivity” model, using only fly-in talent and restricting fans through significant price hikes and ticket limitations, I feel Bar Wrestling is recapturing the spirit of early PWG. Bar Wrestling from its debut has been giving a valuable platform to local talent by pitting them against a diverse lineup of big-name wrestlers, and seamlessly mixing comedy and workrate-oriented wrestling in a way that reminds me of many early Guerrilla cards. Additionally, Bar is host to raucous crowds that, on video, remind me of classic PWG (an adrenaline rush I’ve long missed), and I was excited to finally be part of that atmosphere live.
This show was my first trip to the Bootleg Theater, and it immediately ascended to the top of my favorite wrestling venues in SoCal. Besides the full bar (an amenity that I was long convinced was the only reason people claimed to like the cramped, invasive hellhole that was the Reseda Legion Hall), seating and standing-room only sections were spacious, there was ample room outside the ring area to take breaks from the action, and the lighting gave the makeshift arena a cool underground nightclub vibe. The show actually started on time, which was a relief, and it started hot.
Heather Monroe vs. Tessa Blanchard
Heather Monroe is a member of the Killer Baes tag team with Laura James, which has been a fixture on Bar Wrestling cards, and has been impressing audiences in Championship Wrestling from Hollywood. Monroe’s started to turned heads with a recent high-profile match against NWA World Women’s Champion Jazz, and here she gets another showcase with Tessa Blanchard. Tessa likely needs no introduction, as the biggest star in women’s wrestling outside of WWE. A former Impact Knockouts Champion, WOW cast member, and a featured competitor at the All In super show, Blanchard will likely be the face of women’s wrestling for decades.
This was a solid opener, with Monroe showing she could hang in the ring with her famous opponent. Blanchard’s character work was solid, exuding arrogance yet still showing that she did not take her opponent lightly. The highlight was an intense strike exchange toward the end of the match that felt authentic rather than the expected spot that often takes place in indy matches. There were a few awkward spots and mistiming (which I somewhat blame on the very loose ring ropes), and Monroe never got a convincing nearfall despite the match being worked fairly evenly, but it didn’t hamper the action too severely. Blanchard won following a series of reversals into her hammerlock DDT finisher, and showed respect to Monroe after the match.
Winner: Tessa Blanchard
Taya Valkyrie and PJ Black vs. Luchasaurus and Penelope Ford
This match was the one I was looking forward to most after the card announcement. Taya Valkyrie, in my opinion, is the toughest woman in wrestling (or at least, 1A to LuFisto). She has put on incredible matches with both male and female opponents in Lucha Underground (her intergender match with Brian Cage is a highlight of the whole series), and has thrived in multiple punishing match environments at Impact Wrestling, where she is the current Knockouts champion. I was also excited to see Luchasaurus, the former NXT trainee who has become a SoCal highlight.
PJ Black, the former Justin Gabriel in WWE, has enjoyed sporadic success in LU and NWA promotions, but has been hampered by injuries. Penelope Ford, the longtime in-ring partner of Joey Janela, enjoyed her national breakout at All In and recently signed to All Elite Wrestling. She replaces Jungle Boy, who is unfortunately dealing with the devastating and sudden loss of his father, Luke Perry.
Taya and PJ brought their dogs to the ring, which made them immediate babyfaces in my eyes, but the heel face/dynamics in this match were complicated by the fact it’s hard to root against a dinosaur luchador and Ford. This was a comedy match that didn’t have a ton of structure to it (the concept of the “legal man” was abandoned very quickly), but the individual spots were creative and kept it moving at an entertaining pace. Unfortunately, a key segment of the match (a brawl on the outside between Taya and Ford) couldn’t be seen by multiple sections of the crowd, and these fans didn’t get a lot else to see because Luchasaurus and Black stopped wrestling to watch it.
Once that sequence ended, both teams traded intergender chokeslams, and a brisk finishing stretch saw Taya and PJ hit an assisted kneedrop of the top rope for the win. This match was a bit disappointing due to visibility issues and the short length, but was still entertaining and kept the crowd engaged.
Winners: Taya Valkyrie and PJ Black
Joey Ryan vs. Brandon Cutler
I’ve been following Joey Ryan’s career since the early 2000s, when he was “The Technical Wizard” and teaming with Scott Lost as the X-Foundation. If you weren’t a fan during those days, Joey spent a lot of his time getting utterly annihilated by Super Dragon in GSCW, PWG, and other promotions, taking some of the most dangerous bumps I’ve ever seen. Joey’s evolution of his sleazy character has been awe-inspiring. Beginning with giving everyone Mustache Rides and coming out to the Magnum PI theme, to his run as the greatest PWG champion of all time (I will fight anyone who says otherwise) and NWA World Tag Team Championship team with Karl Anderson, to the World’s Cutest Tag Team and finally The King of Dong Style, Joey has been a genius at staying relevant and making one of the most unique livings in the history of pro wrestling. His current character will ensure he will be able to go to the pay window for a long time, possibly well into his 60s (if the Funk brothers can do it, so can Joey).
Brandon Cutler and his brother Dustin were contemporaries of The Young Bucks, starting their careers in the Bucks’ High Risk Wrestling and working regularly in AWS before finally making their way to PWG in the late 2000s. Unlike the Bucks, who rose to become international superstars and a commercial juggernaut, the Cutlers retired to raise a family. Brandon has spent the past year making an in-ring comeback, with the highlight being a spot at the All In Over Budget Battle Royal, and is working his way to a spot in All Elite Wrestling.
This match was the essence of the Joey Ryan Experience, working in all of his signature spots with Brandon as the willing rubber ball. I appreciated that every time Brandon got hit with Joey’s indestructible penis in a different body part, he sold it for the entire match. His comeback even incorporated how damaged he had been by the dong of death. While it was an extended squash by Joey, Brandon managed to avoid the Blowpop Superkick and backslide Joey for the pinfall. I think Joey took two bumps the entire match and the crowd loved every second of it. As someone who experienced Joey as a divisive figure during my earlier time here, the reception he got was weirdly heartwarming.
Winner: Brandon Cutler
DoomFly (Delilah Doom and Eli Everfly), Jake Atlas and Tyler Bateman vs. Watts, the RockNES Monsters (Johnny Yuma and BHK), and Ryan Taylor – Lucha Rules Match
This match was an All-Star cast of SoCal talent, and my personal match of the night. I remember many of these wrestlers when they were starting out – Watts as an Inoki Dojo student, Ryan Taylor as a EWF stalwart, and the RockNES Monsters getting their start in SoCal Pro. The other participants in this match have been making waves in a very short time. DoomFly are the 2018 SCU Tag Team of the year (with Delilah Doom getting double honors as Women’s Wrestler of the Year), and each has made a big mark recently – Delilah recently signing with Impact Wrestling and Eli getting a televised win over The Miz on Smackdown. Jake Atlas was recently announced for the Joey Janela Spring Break show (a star maker in recent years), and Tyler Bateman has earned a recurring spot in PWG.
This was lucha/”atomicos” rules, which sidestepped the legal competitor issues in the earlier tag bout. While everyone put in a strong effort, smoothly stringing together highspots and dives, Watts and Bateman were the stars of the match, in my opinion. Watts has really learned how to leverage his size to be an imposing force in a match, and that presence was integrated really well. DoomFly had to work hard to avoid Watts’ power, doing double-team counters every time they were caught. Bateman and Watts had an impressive strike exchange, with Bateman amplifying the drama by effectively selling the ankle damage Watts had given him. Watts also had the best spot of the match by doing a huge dive to the outside, which I had never seen him hit before. I also liked that the hubris of that dive led to his downfall, with Bateman connecting on huge strike and a rollup for the win.
Winners: DoomFly, Jake Atlas, and Tyler Bateman
Brian Cage vs. Andy Brown
Brown, the winner of SCU’s 2018 Paul T. Memorial Award for Most Outstanding Wrestler, squares off against one of independent wrestling’s true monsters and superstars in Brian Cage. A friend of mine at the show with me, who is a semi-regular at SoCal Pro shows, was excited for this match since he felt Brown was their best wrestler.
Cage is even more impressive live than on TV, with the ability to move like a panther and hit like a truck. This was booked similarly to Monroe vs. Blanchard, with Andy able to rattle Cage with power shots and dives, but for the most part was never truly able to put Cage in danger outside of one close nearfall toward the conclusion of the match. Brown set up his finisher, but Cage caught him into a powerbomb position, and then hoisted him up for the F5 and the 1-2-3. A running theme throughout the night was I wished each match had received another 5 minutes to really develop, and this match was no exception.
Winner: Brian Cage
Priscilla Kelly and Darby Allin vs. PPRay (Pretty Peter Avalon and Ray Rosas)
Along with Worldwide Underground vs. Ford/Luchasaurus, this was a match I was really looking forward to seeing. I am a huge Priscilla Kelly fan – she has long been a highlight of WWN family shows with both her ringwork and presence as a second to Austin Theory. I was thrilled that her recent feminine hygiene spots had gone viral, as she has long deserved a higher profile within US women’s wrestling. Darby Allin has rocketed to stardom in EVOLVE, often wrestling incoming WWE/NXT talent at those shows and putting on an independent Match of the Year Candidate vs. WALTER at EVOLVE 106.
Peter Avalon is an institution in Southern California wrestling – a former AWS light heavyweight and tag team champion, and Triple Crown champion in Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, and SoCal Pro linchpin, he and Ray Rosas have been highlights of every local card. Having only seen him recently on video through the Championship Wrestling shows and the NWA feud with Tim Storm, I legitimately had no idea how beloved Avalon was at Bar Wrestling – he and Rosas got a hero’s welcome in their return as a team.
While I try not to be biased in my fandom, I thought Priscilla Kelly was the clear star of this match, as the action revolved around her and PPRay’s attempts to deal with her unconventional style. When she caught Rosas in her “modified” (in a way you can imagine) camel clutch, Rosas freaked out and Kelly questioned if he had ever tasted a vagina before, to a rowdy reaction. Kelly’s strikes and footwork are also much cleaner than they were during her appearance in the last Mae Young Classic, showing her continuous improvement. Allin looked smooth, overcoming to the loose ropes for some impressive springboard spots, and Rosas and Avalon showed no ring rust together, adjusting well to their unorthodox opponents. Eventually, some PPRay miscommunication led to an Allin/Kelly double-team (this is the one I finish I can’t recollect completely) and a win for the debuting team. This was a worthy main event for the show, which was closed out by PPRay thanking the audience for their continued support.
Winners: Priscilla Kelly and Darby Allin
Overall Thoughts: Bar Wrestling definitely delivered the advertised experience, with an enthusiastic crowd in an intimate setting, and six matches that could all have easily been the main event. This was also one of the shortest shows I’ve ever attended at a tight two hours, which I’ve been told is generally the norm with Bar Wrestling cards. The short match times (with the exception of the Atomicos 8-man match) didn’t really give any of them a chance to develop into “classics,” but each of them effectively told the story they wanted to get across and got the desired response from the crowd. Bar Wrestling definitely brought back my nostalgia for the SoCal wrestling scene, and hopefully their dates line up for future visits to SoCal.
Up Next: The Planes, Trains and Automobiles Report reunites one more time, as Paul Newberry and I take our farthest road trip ever, to Baja Stars USA!