Friday, August 10, 2007

My trip to OVW and DCW

Thinking Outside the Box (and the Squared Circle)

All men may be created equal, but that cannot be said for wrestling fans. Just as a Lucha company is different from a Japanese company is different from WWE, so to are the fans of particular companies around the world.

I learned this first-hand this week. After seeing shows in the Northeast and in the Mid-Atlantic for years, I got an up-close look at old-fashioned Southern Wrestling and their fans.

Our story begins in the Louisville suburb of New Albany, Indiana, home of XCW Midwest and wrestler Mitch Ryder. Ryder is no stranger to fans in the Northeast, having worked for companies like CZW and CHIKARA of late. And while the show did have some familiar “indy names” on the card, like Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli, fans expecting ROH-style matches would be sorely disappointed.

Like many indy shows, the show was not held in an area, but in a National Guard Armory. One, unfortunately on this night, that did not have air-conditioning. And, being the first day of a 100 degree heatwave in the area, the atmosphere was stifling and most of the crowd could be seen making frequent trips to the snack bar for drinks or fanning themselves with the evening’s programs.

The show had a mixture of wrestlers on it. Some, as mentioned above, were Internet favorites, some were legends (Gypsy Joe, Bill Dundee), some were regional stars (Jamie Dundee, Bull Pain) and some were local workers I admittedly had never seen before (LA Warren, The Prophet).

The crowd, like the ones I would see later in the week in Louisville, was very old school. Families of all ages could be found in the building. Mothers were scurrying after small children oblivious to the matches in the ring. There were grizzled old-timers and young toughs. The one thing that appeared to be in short supply was “the smark fan.” There were only a handful of t-shirts for the likes of Larry Sweeney and Hero. There were more WWE and even WWF/WCW era t-shirts to be found being worn. And there were no real “smart” chants, other than the obligatory “You Fucked Up” chants. Mostly, it was “Go, person, Go” or the traditional stuff yelled at heels, usually questioning their sexuality.

The most unusual thing seen that night was probably the match scheduled to be Castagnoli vs. Necro Butcher. Word was that there was a locker room incident involving the Butcher and the card had to be shuffled. So, Claudio, all 6’5” of him ended up wrestling former WWE talent Zach Gowen. Yes, Zach Gowen. Sadly, we did not get to see Claudio execute a one-legged Giant Swing, which would have been something to behold. Instead, the match was more about Claudio not getting along with special guest referee Gypsy Joe and it ended up being a schmozz when Claudio attacked Joe and just left the ring.

When the night was over (which admittedly came early for me, thanks to the heat and a seven-hour drive that day), a few hundred fans went home happy as Ryder won the main event by DQ over Todd Morton. But this was just the beginning.

Wednesday night was my first trip to see Ohio Valley Wrestling. I had been getting OVW tapes since the “glory days” of the company under Jim Cornette, when the shows were built around Doug Basham, The Damaja and Nick Dinsmore. Interestingly enough, while the product in the ring these days might not match that era, the company is still doing quite well, filling up Davis Arena every week for TV and having successful spot shows all over the area.

I was told to get there by 6 o’clock for the doors to open at 6:30. I came a few minutes before 6:00 and there were already a couple hundred people queued up in line outside the building (in an industrial park on the outskirts of Louisville). There was camaraderie between many of the people milling about, showing that these folks have been seeing the same faces week after week for who knows how long.

After an all-too-long wait in the blistering sun, the crowd went in and the show began in a short time. Thankfully, Davis Arena has air conditioning. Like the night before, the crowd was boisterous, loudly cheering and booing, although not always for the designated babyfaces and heels. There was a strong continent opposed to former Spirit Squadder Johnny Jeter and the recently-arrived (from the Indy scene) Colt Cabana perhaps had the most cheers, but had one extremely-loud non-fan.

OVW, being a developmental territory, is not going to be full of five-star matches (if you’re one who goes for that sort of thing). The workers are learning, getting on-the-job training in front of live fans and television cameras. You could tell there were varying levels of skills on display, especially with former RAW performers like Armando Estrada and Eugene (the former Nick Dinsmore, still doing his “special” gimmick) on the show. On the other end of the spectrum, you had young guys, obviously green, not quite hitting all their marks or not quite exactly nailing a particular move.

One new wrinkle for OVW booking is the addition of the Derby City Wrestling show the next night. This allows them to shoot angles that carry over to the show. On this night, an angle between the James Boys (KC James and Cassidy Riley) and the new babyface team of Jeter and Christian York led to a main event match on OVW that resulted in a rematch the next night on DCW.

Many of the fans in the building Wednesday night were back the next night for DCW. Since the TV tapings for DCW were only about a month old, there was not the same level of attendance (plus, the weather, still hazardous to one’s health) as the night before, but it looks like almost everyone there had been there the night before.

Derby City is made up of wrestlers from OVW’s “intermediate” training school level. These are guys not under WWE contract, like most of the OVW roster, but were in fact still paying tuition to go through the school and still having jobs in the real world to make ends meet. They were just hoping to make it to the next level, which was one step closer to the major leagues. To use the sports analogy, DCW is AA, OVW is AAA and the WWE is The Show (not to be confused with the Big Show).

Obviously, the DCW workers are even less-polished as their OVW counterparts, which doesn’t diminish their willingness to learn or try in the ring. As someone who watches a lot of CHIKARA (another promotion full of young workers fresh out of wrestling school), there are always varying levels of quality you can find in the ring when you have green wrestlers still learning their way. Good fans can forgive miscues in the ring if they can tell that the effort is there. Also, the ring-work is very basic and sound. It would seem odd to a fan of Northeast wrestling that the first highspot (a straightforward plancha) didn’t occur until the fifth match on the card.

Again, there did not appear to be many “smart” fans in the crowd, which doesn’t stop DCW from running an extremely-inside angle. Ted “The Trailer” McNailer is currently having what could be called a one-sided feud with wrestling newsletter writer Bryan Alvarez. McNailer has been cutting promos on Alvarez, who has been reviewing the DCW TV show in his Figure Four Weekly publication. But, as of this writing, it is not building towards anything, as Alvarez, a part-time wrestler, says he has no desire to go all the way to Louisville to deal with McNailer. This likely is both a way for McNailer to practice his promo skills and provide an amusing in-joke for Alvarez, DCW trainer Rip Rogers and their mutual friend and wrestling school trainer, Buddy Wayne.

The one drawback with running very fundamental matches is their repetitiveness. On this night, they were in the middle of running the DCW Tag Team Title Tournament. So, the crowd saw four tag matches that were very formulaic and even saw the same spots in a couple of the matches. Had there not been four of them in a row, it would not have been so plain. They also had the misfortune of running an injury angle (with Sweet Stevie) and later having a real injury take place a few matches later (with the J-Man), but those things happen.

Again, like the night before, everyone in the crowd appeared to have a good time and went home happy. Of course, you can have small expectations for your entertainment when you’re not paying anything for it. (yes, attendance at both TV tapings is free.)

All of this goes to show that the obvious that there are many different kinds of wrestling out there and if you are just a fan of one kind, maybe you should try going outside the box for a new kind of entertainment to watch. If you’re a Northeast fan, try some Southern wrestling and vice versa. Fandom shouldn’t be limited to one particular kind of person.