I’ve been to a few concerts in my day. If I had to choose I’d say my favourite one was seeing Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. Haines is the lead singer of the much more well known Metric and this was her side project of piano-driven indie rock. It was the group’s first live performance. I’d bought their album earlier that day, but didn’t listen to it before seeing her. That meant I’d be hearing it for the first time performed by Haines herself. In the background, spooky images from Guy Maddin films were projected onto a screen, the perfect complement to Haines’s ethereal vocals. I’ve seen Arcade Fire, Justin Timberlake and Kanye West. Emily Haines is the one I remember the fondest, the memory that I revisit most often.
The audience was comprised of no more than a hundred people, so it was intimate to say the least. If you’ve ever heard Haines’s songs, then you know that intimacy is her forte. Now imagine that you’re only a dozen feet away from her. I couldn’t even risk moving from my seat because I might lose my balance and end up tumbling into her lap. Perhaps I should have risked moving.
I haven’t had a concert experience quite like it, though I did go to a show on Sunday that reminded me of it.
In Etobocoke, I kicked a man in the head and faced no repercussions for my actions. Let me explain.
Sunday, January 26, 2014. SMASH Wrestling. Any Given Sunday 2: the sequel to what was arguably the best show in the company’s brief history (that I was lucky enough to attend). Accompanying me was my faithful ally in all things wrestling, Paolo. We decided to go all out and get front row tickets. They were relatively cheap compared to what we had to pay for the nosebleed section of a Monday Night RAW taping. I’m saying, if you live within driving distance of an independent wrestling show, you owe it to yourself to splurge and get as close to the action as possible. I can’t promise it will be as good as SMASH, but there’s nothing quite like being inches away from live professional wrestling. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Paolo and I waited around like a couple of chumps not realizing that our first row tickets meant we could skip the line. I told him that I didn’t mind standing around because I didn’t consider myself to be above the common man, but these VIP tickets said different. I AM above the common man.
I would lose my s**t if the action spilled out to the whirly ball arena.
The crowd was particularly large due to the booking of former TNA everything champion, AJ Styles. SMASH brought in one of my personal favourites, Lance Storm, for their last show (Tapped Out). Styles is a hell of a follow-up. Paolo and I snagged tickets 1 and 2.
We managed to get seated just before the pre-show match, a six-man tag between a team from the US and a team from Canada. I completely missed the names of the wrestlers and can’t seem to dig them up anywhere, so my apologies to the guys who put in a great effort. Right away, I felt a sense of empowerment being in the front row, hooting and hollering at the bad guys who were right next to me. This proved to be a huge mistake as my vocal chords were shot before intermission. I couldn’t help myself.
Front row moment: The American team started using some dirty tactics and I barked, “That’s not how we do things in Canada!” That drew a sneer from one of the dastardly Yanks. This was the beginning of the shenanigans.
Match 1: Alex Vega v. Brent Banks
At the first Any Given Sunday, these two were tag team partners. Now they’re embroiled in a blood feud. They’ve had a series of matches and each one ends with Banks cowardly attacking Vega afterwards. I was eagerly awaiting this match since we got a taste of Banks’s over the top heel persona at Tapped Out. After that show, they did a goofy year-end awards ceremony and when Banks won for “Most Hated” he couldn’t even be bothered to look away from his cell phone as he accepted the plaque. What a jerk!
Front row moment: As Banks made his way to the ring, I booed lustily. Then I broke out an insult I’d been working on for a month:
You suck, Banks!
He turned and glared right at me. Staying consistent with a chicken s**t fan persona I’d established, I immediately started pointing at fans around me to avert suspicion.
As for Vega, he has improved a lot since the first time I saw him. He’s really tightened up the execution of his moves and he’s got a better physique too. I came to see Banks, but Vega definitely won me over.
The match itself was fantastic. The action was high paced indie fare, made better by the intensity of their rivalry. It goes to show you how a simple, well played storyline can add so much to a match. Banks had a couple of brilliant moments where he would tease going for a chop (always a crowd pleasing move), then do something different like rake Vega’s eyes. We ate it up. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face no matter how hard I booed.
Veda Scott v. Seleziya Sparx
After that white hot opening match, they made a wise decision to schedule the ladies to wrestle next. A women’s match has a totally different feel to it, not to mention they have their own ways of getting the crowd riled up…
Front row moment: Seleziya stopped right in front of me, shook her groove thang and then blew me a kiss. I believe she also said “That’s for you”, but she may as well have been talking to every man in the audience. I’m pretty sure my heart stopped for a second there.
There were some slow spots, particularly when transitioning between big moves but Seleziya and Veda definitely have some chemistry. This was the second time these two have locked up, with each woman getting one win apiece. Post-match, Veda got on the mic and challenged Seleziya to a rubber match, which I’m eagerly anticipating.
Gregory Iron v. Tyson Dux
I went to get some badly needed bottles of water, so I missed the video that hyped this match. I was confused as to why everyone was so down on Dux, since he’s a SMASH Wrestling staple, but I learned later that he was making fun of Iron’s cerebral palsy. That’s kind of uncalled for.
Front row moment: Iron furiously attacked Dux before the bell even rang, tossing him around ringside and bashing him with a chair. As they passed by, Iron called to me to raise my boot. I blanked completely, nearly blowing the whole thing, but Paolo yelled at me and I got my foot up in time to have Dux’s face rammed into it. I’ve seen this sort of thing done at lots of indie wrestling shows. I always assumed that the victim barely glances the boot, but I felt the impact as Dux threw himself at it! What these guys do for their love of the business astounds me.
Dux managed to put Iron away with a Death Valley Driver into the corner, the second one of the match. Then he cut a promo afterwards putting Iron over big time.
Matt Cross v. Scotty O’Shea v. Kyle O’Reilly v. A.C.H.
This was originally scheduled to be a triple threat match with Cross, O’Shea and O’Reilly. The ring announcer pulled an amusing bait and switch, telling us that the match was no longer happening. He allowed for the expected boos before telling us that A.C.H. had come up all the way from Texas to make this a fatal four way! The action was absolutely insane.
Front row moment: Where do I begin? The wrestlers picked our side to do all the crazy “flying out of the ring” spots and I feared for my life at times. I wasn’t just staying in character! There was an elderly woman sitting right next to me (who apparently goes to all of these Etobicoke shows) and I felt like I had to protect both her and myself. Easier said than done when large, sweaty dudes in spandex are hurtling towards you. I’m going to look like an a-hole when the DVD comes out as you’ll be able to see me visibly cowering in fear of the airborne wrestlers.
A.C.H. was the last man out, doing a spectacular flipping dive out of the ring. He looked like he needed to chill so he used the woman and me as arm rests. All I could do was pat him on the elbow pad and tell him to take it easy.
I felt a kinship with A.C.H. after that, so I felt really bad when Cross unloaded on him with fifty forearms to the noggin. That’s not an exaggeration. The whole place counted along with him.
Another great spot saw O’Reilly eat a stunner, stumble into the ropes and use them to flip back towards the ring and add momentum to a clothesline that looked like it killed A.C.H. They really knew how to welcome the new guy to SMASH wrestling.
Cross ended up winning with a wicked Shooting Star Press. He’s undefeated in SMASH Wrestling, which is why several fans were chanting “Goldberg” in recognition of his streak. It’s going to be a huge deal when someone finally beats him. Maybe Jay Lethal, who’s booked to appear at the next show?
Checkmate (Christopher Bishop & Lionel Knight) v. The Overdogs (Sebastian Suave & John Greed)
This was the SMASH wrestling debut of the NEW Overdogs, after Suave turned on his partner Josh Alexander at Tapped Out. I like that he chose Greed to join the team. He’s one of the few guys in this promotion with a different body type. It’s a disgusting body type, but it is certainly different.
This match had an odd placement after that breathtaking multi-man match and with the co-main and main events forthcoming. Still, the wrestlers did an admiral job and the action revved up near the end. Bishop actually executed what I thought was the most impressive move of the night. As Knight beat on Suave in the corner, Bishop maintained a headstand in that same corner for a solid 10 seconds. When Knight was clear, Bishop released and landed a gorgeous split-legged moonsault.
Front row moment: There actually wasn’t one. I’m glad because I’m not sure I could handle Greed getting up in my business.
Johnny Gargano v. Michael Elgin
I’d seen pictures, but until I saw him in person I didn’t realize what a big ass motherf**er Elgin is. He’s kind of like a cross between Chris Benoit and Rhyno. He’s built like a tree stump.
I was openly rooting for Gargano since this is my third time seeing him and that’s what I choose to base my allegiance on. He’s put on a good show every time so how can I not have his back?
Front row moment: Gargano is great at getting the crowd involved and he kept looking at our section, mainly because we were in the minority in cheering him on. Elgin hails from Ontario so I understand why he was favoured. Still, when Gargano managed to make Elgin submit, us Gargano fans (Garganites…Garganoans…?) were made to feel like we were a part of it.
At one point, Gargano got hit so hard that he spit gum out of his mouth and I think it hit Paolo so that was pretty great.
The rest of the match was filled with stiff strikes and high impact manoeuvres, though the complete lack of psychology left me somewhat cold. I’m told that Elgin is meant to be a beast who can take a beating, but there were some sequences where they were just murdering each other and then springing back up like nothing happened. From an athleticism and execution standpoint, it was astounding. They really went all out in fitting in as many moves as possible.
Elgin’s strength is unbelievable. His delayed vertical suplex, where he holds his opponent upside down for about a minute, is stunning to see in person. Time and time again he was able to dead lift Gargano for various slams and suplexes. He connected with a Falcon Arrow from the tope rope that I thought was the end of the match for sure.
The match had an amusing B-plot, involving a referee with some questionable counting skills. I loved it because his counts seemed to favour Gargano, but the crowd turned on him quickly. They even started a “kill the ref” chant. Harsh. Post-match, Elgin asked the audience to focus on the quality of the match and leave the referee alone. Then he clocked the poor bugger with a spinning backfist.
The crowd had also chanted “we want Jimmy” (in reference to fan favourite official and big show veteran Jimmy Korderas). Jimmy came out to check on his fellow zebra and as soon as he saw that he was fit to stand, he tossed him out of the ring. That got one of the loudest pops of the night. A bunch of savages in this town.
Chris Hero v. AJ Styles
Front row moment: Nothing in particular in this match, but being able to slap hands with Styles and all the other wrestlers was the whip cream on the sundae for me. I’d seen Styles on TV countless times, watched his matches from Japan and now I was giving daps to the guy in a small gym in Etobicoke, Ontario. How awesome is that?
Damn, AJ Styles looks bad ass.
Early on, you can see why these two have had such decorated careers. They’re just so damn crisp. They really fill in the spaces between the high spots too. That is to say, it never looks like they’re thinking about what to do next. All of their movements and mannerisms make sense. They make it easy for us to suspend disbelief, which I find can add a lot to a wrestling match.
I won’t say it was the best match of the night (I actually felt the Vega/Banks and the 4 way were superior), but it’s also a difficult match for me to evaluate because I was somewhat star struck. It was just like seeing Emily Haines again. I’d seen her on TV, in music videos, at festivals, but to be that close was surreal. What might have been just another match for Styles and Hero was an unforgettable encounter for the rest of us. It seemed to mean something to them. I hope it did.
Hero won with his discus elbow to the back of the head, a move that has been heavily protected from what I’ve seen. One shot and you’re done. He now has consecutive SMASH victories over Lance Storm and AJ Styles. Not bad. He proposed a best of 7 series with Styles after and if that hasn’t already been arranged with companies across North America, then promoters everywhere should be lining up to get a piece of it. If it swings back to this part of town, I know I’ll be there.
As it stands, they already have my money for the next show in February. Will Matt Cross be able to keep his streak alive? How will Vega and Banks deal with the pressure of the main event spot, a ladder match to boot? Will seeing Mickie James in person cause me to melt (sorry, Seleziya)?
What else can I say? I don’t drink, but I love to get SMASHed.