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School of Hard Notts: Puro-Vision

12 February 19 words: Chaz Wright

Wrestle Gate Pro (WGP) landed in Nottingham in January for their exciting debut show Open Gate an event noticeably influenced by Japanese wrestling. Also known as Puro it’s a relatively realistic, punishing style where wrestlers primarily get over* by displaying their “fighting spirit” i.e. willingness to absorb and subsequently dish-out a beating against any odds. In some ways a style at the other end of the spectrum from traditional UK wrestling were intangible factors like charisma can be as significant as pain threshold or athletic ability - Crabtree, I am looking at you.

 

Open Gate kicked off at Rushcliffe Arena, the best local venue for live wrestling, though in the past I have generally visualised it as “Briggo Leisure Centre” as opposed to its grander title. This preconception was shaken as I gawped at the building’s slick new façade, then comprehensively annihilated as we entered the hall.  A clean, crisp atmosphere, impressive rig and video screens, just a hint of smoke and the excellent addition of a cheapish bar in the room equated to a slick, fan-friendly experience. Welcome to the Briggo Dome! A satisfyingly hubbub of anticipation from the capacity crowd filled the air drowning out the promoter’s presumably massive sigh of relief.

In Japan female wrestlers have been box-office for a while, which is now filtering through to western promotions but inter-gender wrestling matches remain somewhat taboo. To be clear, we all know wrestlers tell a story, so with the right performers it’s difficult to justify why men and women shouldn’t mix it up. WGP grasped this nettle immediately (in retrospect beating WWE to the “punch” by one day) as the convincingly hard Millie McKenzie took on and beat the commendably villainous MK McKinnon. Doubtless it’s a tough balance with careful booking necessary to avoid matches feeling unsavoury but promoters should explore relatively tasteful ways of achieving this. Tasteful and wrestling; words not often heard in the same sentence.

WGP fuse Puro with UK traditions. Observe, endearing Japanese trademarks like “young lions” clustered pensively around the ring to protect fans if the action gets too boisterous (reducing the risk of litigation and establishing themselves for future matches) alongside quintessential British traditions like the post-event raffle. Japanese fans throw ribbons into the ring as a show of respect after a good bout and these were provided to the boisterous crowd we expect in the UK. Amusingly, most pissed-up Nottingham humans seemingly forgot to hold on to one end of their ribbon, opting to simply lob the hard, brightly-coloured roll at the innocent grapplers’ chins.

I thought the mix was well-judged, delivering a distinctive Puro-themed atmosphere whilst retaining the home-spun charm of UK wrestling without feeling amateurish. Most importantly, the action was of a very high standard, with a card too stacked for in-depth analysis here, but personal highlights included:

Good booking as Session Moth Martina vs Shax quickly escalated into a comedic four-way mixed tag fought under Lucha rules (!). Nottingham’s Wrestlin’ Bitch-Face, Visage looking great, dishing out a few proper potatoes* before duplicitous partner Jack Sexsmith convincingly obliterated him from the top rope; hopefully previewing a future scrap. The match was largely structured around the inebriated bruiser Martina who said: “My first-time wrestling in Nottingham, great city, great beer. I’m pretty sure all the attractive people here fancy me so I will be back for WGP!”

British Wrestling stalwart James Mason received a deservedly warm welcome for a good match with the Dastardly Danny Duggan, notable for the vocal crowd reaction as the victorious heel* comically struggled to get a word in edgeways through a wall of booing. Sean Kustom also put on an impressive display against Niwa showcasing an inventive, and somewhat bonkers, Spanish Fly finisher from the top rope.

 

Japanese import Yuu lost to the intimidating Ayesha Raymond in a real bruiser. Sadly, the risks of the hard-hitting Japanese style were illustrated as both competitors left the arena in ambulances. Best wishes to both, the crowd loved the match giving babyface* Yuu a particularly positive reception - Yuu deserved it!

Frontline wrestling’s young lions put on a cracker. If this isn’t a regular feature for WGP shows, it should be. I was amazed at the youthful appearance of these four, who pin-balled around the ring resembling the cast of Bugsy Malone jacked up on crystal-meth. Despite the crowd’s unfamiliarity with these young boys their incredible synchronised gymnastics and crazy offensive maneuvers got a spontaneous standing ovation in one of the night’s best reactions before all getting steamrolled by sneering behemoth Lucas Steel. Lovely stuff!

For the first time ever, Mil Muertes (zombie Luchador, UK debut) took on John “Bad Bones” Klinger (German brawling machine). Big fight feel, enhanced by a contingent of rabid German fans relentlessly chanting for “Bones”. This one lived up to the hype with huge power moves, aerial high-jinks and an exciting overspill brawl into the crowd which ruined my, admittedly forlorn, attempts at note taking as our seats were memorably obliterated. The febrile crowd fed the drama as Bones sold out, snuck the win and betrayed Muertes and the fans in one fell swoop. Booooo!

Afterwards, we enquired if the villainous Bones enjoyed performing in Nottingham. Presumably channelling Spinal Tap he replied “Who is Nottingham?” When informed it was his present location he eruditely responded. “No, it’s an ugly city, full of terrible people, but the thing is I beat Muertes here; it’s typical, first time ever and I had to beat the dead man in this [email protected] city”. The utter cad!

To quote every fan in the room “I wouldn’t fancy following that”. Thankfully, Chris Ridgeway and Jake McClusky were up to it, with a hard-core display of fighting spirit carrying us through. Make no mistake - Ridgeway is nails; gristly physique, brutal strikes and the capacity to absorb a pummelling that would make Mike Tyson weep with disturbing relish.

McClusky looked great, flew beautifully and dished out some bad medicine himself, but Ridgeway is actually quite scary. A UK performer with gas in the tank who epitomises WGPs UK/Puro mash-up he’s a guy to build a promotion around. Ultimately Ridgeway was victorious after getting the crowd juiced up again with a bit of old-fashioned “smashmouth” in an apt climax to a great show.

WGP are booked at Briggo Dome throughout the year; with some interesting angles on the boil for future shows and one of the world’s best, Ilja Dragunov, booked for March there’s a distinct feeling of momentum. If you’re craving an introduction to “the king of sports” WGP are a good place to start.

*over – to win the crowd

*Potato – a good chinning

*Heel – a villain

*babyface – a goody

wrestlegatepro.com

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