Friday, 14 March 2014 08:05
By Markus and Patrick Gronemann
wXw 16 Carat Gold Tournament preview
From 3/14 to 3/16, the biggest pro-wrestling tournament in Europe and one of the biggest independent wrestling tournaments in the world takes place again in Oberhausen, Germany. wXw (Westside Xtreme Wrestling) has come a long way since its humble beginnings on Christmas Eve of 2000, when one Claudio Castagnoli made his debut alongside a few other aspiring wrestlers in the rock club “Roxy” in Essen, Germany. Since new management took over the promotion, which was deep in the red in 2006, they turned things around in a big way. They came in with a business plan, which is the only way to run an indy promotion, especially on a shoestring budget. Through a grassroots approach, a rabid fanbase and the help of wrestlers such as Chris Hero and Mike Quackenbush, who helped train the first generation of pro-wrestlers in Germany after the collapse of the CWA, which used to run yearly, multi-week tournaments in Hannover and Bremen, Germany as well as Vienna and Graz, Austria, they quickly gained the reputation of delivering quality shows on a constant basis. They also worked with promotions in the UK as well as some major independent promotions in the US (PWG, CHIKARA, CZW) and Japan (Dragon Gate, NOAH, Big Japan). Using major independent talent helped with putting the spotlight on the promotion originally, especially with hardcore fans.
In recent years, they also developed a lot of their upcoming talent themselves, using the unique approach of running their own non-profit wrestling school and development group, called the Westside Dojo. Established wrestlers help train the upcoming talent on the weekends for free, guest wrestlers also offer seminars when they are in town for shows. Promising young wrestlers from other schools in Germany are also offered spots in addition. In 2013 they also really geared up on their touring schedule, running two full, multi-month tours in the northern, eastern and western parts of Germany with shows on almost every weekend (excluding tv tapings, they ran more shows than Ring of Honor in 2013). The current “Drive of Champions” tour culminates at the end of May while the “14th Anniversary Tour” starts after the summer.
The 16 Carat has first been established in 2006 and improved both in talent and surrounding events at the three-day, single-elimination tournament – in a way, this is Europe’s WrestleMania, with fans flying in from all over the mainland and the UK with activities involving fans and wrestlers on all three days.
Shows take place at the Steffy club at the Turbinenhalle complex (for the last time, before the new “wXw Arena” in the same building will be finished) in Oberhausen Germany. Shows start at 7.00 pm on Friday, 5.00 pm on Saturday and 4.00 pm on Sunday.
Activities this year include:
· A pre-show roundtable featuring a panel consisting of wXw head booker Felix Kohlenberg, Christian Bischoff from the wXw commentary team, wrestling journalists from the major pro-wrestling statistics site cagematch.net and the biggest online wrestling community moonsault.de as well as the Figue Foure Empire~!’s own Alan4L and, representing Dark Mat EU from Austria, a pro-wrestling/MMA design/journalism project, your’s truly, Markus Gronemann. We will preview the show and speculate on possible matches and the outcome (Friday, 4.30 pm CET, Turbinenhalle/Centreville)
· Various Q&A sessions involving most of the fly-in talent as well as the wXw main talent; people from around the globe who can not attend are encouraged to send in questions through http://ask.fm/CaratQandA (Saturday, 11.00 am to 1.00 pm CET, CentrO strip/Three Sixty Sports Bar)
· An unofficial international fan together, our own version of the Empire Super China Buffet Day~! (Saturday, after Q&As, CentrO strip/Pagoda Asian restaurant)
· wXw Olympics, which will see teams of four compete against each other in physical and mental challenges; there will be wrestler, staff, dojo (wrestling school) and fan teams (Saturday, 2.00 pm CET, Turbinenhalle/Centreville, indoor soccer arena)
· Official after show party with fans, wrestlers, staff and dojo trainees (Saturday, 10.00 pm, CentrO strip/Three Sixty Sports Bar)
· Fans vs. Wrestlers soccer match, which usually is a blast and sees fans getting dropkicked, speared and put into camel clutches left and right (Sunday, 1.00 pm, Turbinenhalle/Centreville, indoor soccer arena)
There will also be some special merchandise for the weekend:
· They designed special “Choctopus” chocolate bars, featuring Jonathan Gresham
· There will be a new “The Face of the Company - Just like that!” shirt featuring Karsten Beck
· A DVD featuring Chris Hero’s best matches in wXw, which should be awesome
· The official 2014 16 Carat Gold Tournament old school poster, designed by our own Patrick Gronemann of Dark Mat EU – he put around 105 hours of work into this beauty, hand drawing and hand-coloring all 16 competitors plus the participants of the world title match. Here's the thing in all its beauty:
As for the talent, this year’s version may be the most stacked yet, including world champions from five major U.S. indy promotions, namely ROH/PWG (Adam Cole), DGUSA (Jonny Gargano), EVOLVE (Chirs Hero), Full Impact Pro (Trent Baretta) and the ROH TV champion (Tommaso Ciampa) in the tournament and the current Dragon Gate champion (Ricochet) and half of the FIP tag team champions (Rich Swann) appearing on the card on Friday.
The 16 Carat Gold Tournament is a single-elimination tournament, with the eight first-round matches on Friday, the four second-round matches on Saturday and the semi-finals and finals on Sunday. Talent eliminated from the tournament usually gets booked for the rest of the weekend in other matches.
Also in attendance will be former WWE wrestler and announcer Matt Striker, who will compete in the 16 Carat Alternate Four Way on Friday (a match for a spot in the tournament if somebody gets injured). Striker reached out to the office and they decided to give him a shot, he may also do commentary for the on-demand video stream on Vimeo and on DVD. He is in the four way with Aaron Insane (part of Sasa Keel’s stable Keel Holding), Kim Ray (who also is somewhat with Keel) and Toby Blunt (one of the more promising Dojo students, and a decent high-flyer)
Friday will also see a special appearance by the Inner City Machine Guns, Ricochet & Rich Swann (who are booked in the UK on Saturday and Sunday), challenging for the wXw tag team titles against champions Hot & Spicy, Axel Dieter Jr. and Da Mack from Hamburg, Germany in the main event. This should be a tremendous match as all four are good to great and all of them are great high-flyers as well. Ricochet has awed German crowds during last year’s 16 Carat and the World Triangle League (a wXw/CZW/BJW round-robin tournament over four days) in October. Axel Dieter Jr., son of legendary CWA in-house shooter Axel Dieter has come into his own during the last year as well, knowing his way around the ring both in the air and on the mat and is one of the best babyfaces in peril of this gneration. His partner Da Mack also is constantly improving. Hot & Spicy won the titles late last year in Hamburg, which quickly has become the promotion’s hottest touring location outside of Oberhausen (and some may even argue hotter than Oberhausen, as the fans there are fresh and not “spoiled” by seeing years of great matches and big name indy talent on a regular basis), setting the attendance record with over 600 fans during their last stop in February. The heat for the tag title match there was off the charts with the match, against then-champions the AUT-siders (Big van Walter and Robert Dreissker) being voted German match of the year by fans.
Saturday will have wXw World Unified Wrestling Champion Tommy End, who won last year’s 16 Carat Tournament in a MOTY candidate against Zack Sabre Jr. in the finals defending against the sensational Jonathan Gresham, who may just about be the most underrated worker in the world right now. Gresham, who is only about 5’5” makes up his lack of size in working abaility. He can fly, he can wrestle and he is one strong dude, deadlifting Daisuke Sekimoto for a German suplex in one of the most jaw-dropping moments in 2013. These two met during last year’s 16 Carat tournament with Tommy winning in one of the best matches of that weekend and Gresham had a MOTY candidate bout with John “Bad Bones” Klinger during the World Triangle League in October. Last year’s match between those two was awesome as they really mixed it up, playing a lot off Tommy End’s reach advantage and striking (he is a legit kickboxer from the Netherlands, started at about 5 or 6 years old and has trained/sparred with guys like Alistair Overeem in the past). This will be the traditional big world title match main event on Saturday and given 20-25 minutes I see this match being awesome with the heat probably being off the charts as Gresham is loved like crazy and Tommy plays one of the best heels on the independent level right now, combining some of the laid-back coolness and rebellious attitude of a CM Punk with a mean streak and the ability to shut both critics and opponent’s up with his ability to back his words up in the ring.
Sunday will probably also see a traditionally completely crazy tag team match as the semi-main. Last year, we got Super Crazy & Ricky Marvin vs. Chuck Taylor and Ricochet, in earlier years bouts such as “The Leaders of the New School”, Zack Sabre Jr. & Marty Scurll (of TNA British Bootcamp fame) vs. Adam Cole & Kyle O’Reilly and in other years the Leaders vs. Ricky Marvin & Emil Sitoci. Other than WWE who takes the crowd down a notch with a buffer match before the main event, this formula works even better, especially with this crowd. The semi-main tag riles everybody up to the nth degree with high spots and crazy stuff, making the drama of the tournament main-event all that more intense. wXw really has this aspect of booking its big shows down to a science and I never saw it fail in the past. The team that most likely will receive a shot at one point are the “Reign of Terror”, which are Johnny Moss and Jon Ryan from the UK. The two were friends, had a brutal feud in 2012, Ryan announced his retirement, was to be inducted into the wXw Hall of Fame in December when Moss came out and attacked Hot & Spicy, who were still in the ring for the ceremony after their match. Ryan then turned and joined Moss, announcing that Moss had been right, he had become soft and now was back and would cause havoc all around. So there is an angle that would warrant a tag team title match at some point either on Saturday or Sunday.
As for the tournament itself, there are a number of possible storylines built in and the thought of almost any combination of matches between the participants should make any hardcore/independent wrestling fan salivate with anticipation. For the first time, they did not announce any of the first round matches, so except for the Four Way and the main event, the card will be a surprise. The participants in the order they were originally announced are:
1. Adam Cole: the current ROH and PWG champion was in the Carat once before in 2011 and has really come into his own since that time, being a great heel and the champion of both promotions. He has had a string of great matches over the past few years and his MMA rules match with Kyle O’Reilly where he busted his nose/mouth big-time immediately comes to mind; a match against Gargano or Hero over who is the true “King of the Indies” almost seems inevitable; he qualified back in December against Mark Haskins, formerly of TNA
2. Trent Baretta: after a stint in WWE in an almost jobber tag-team, Trent? Has become one of the most interesting and entertaining characters in the current indy sceneand even did a tour with NJPW last fall; he battled Gargano in the past and should have great matches with almost everyone
3. Johnny Gargano: the current DGUSA champion has also become one of the best workers on the indy scene and has battled some of the major names in DGUSA, EVOLVE and PWG; he has been in wXw last year and rocked the house
4. Sasa Keel: a former amateur wrestler on the national level from “the beautiful Split in Dalmatia in Croatia” qualified in a mini-tournament, using lots of cheap tricks and his trusted golden chain wrapped around his fist to win. He is one of the most entertaining guys on the roster with his insincere business man approach and his stable of henchmen, called the Keel Inkasso; also a good and entertaining promo
5. “Bad Bones” John Klinger: one of the best and most intense workers in Europe, the “German Psycho” won TNA’s Online Gut-Check Challenge last year and got a few matches at TNA’s recent UK tour out of it; some of the local Oberhausen fans might think he’s overrated but I cannot confirm that; he works very hard and usually has very good to great matches with almost anybody, is a great brawler and also a good mechanic; he rips off some WWE finishers and promos (“YES! YES! YES!”), but that also is part of his gimmick; the one thing one might criticize is that he switches characters within his gimmick on occasion, acting as face or heel, being really intense and wound up tightly at times and then doing comedy spots in his tag team with Absolute Andy the next show; aside from that, he’s one of the best local wrestlers in wXw and may be the best all-around worker from Germany right now; he once won the tournament in 2008, beating Bryan Danielson in the finals
6. KUSHIDA: one half of the Time Splitters with Alex Shelley in NJPW he is in Germany as part of the fledgling cooperation with NJPW, who approached wXw after a feature on Big van Walter ran in one of the Japanese magazines; he will be awesome and a very special attraction, as hardly any NJPW guys were over, safe for Takahashi in December; he will be awesome if he gets to showcase any of his flying with one of the bigger guys as a base
7. Karsten Beck: He also won a mini-tournament by “lying, betraying and abusing”; he currently is part of “The Piledrivers” with Mr. Sha Samuels and is doing a rip-off of Drew Gulak’s “campaign for a better CZW” in wXw; he has come a long way from is humble beginnings as a pure comedy character and has turned into a good wrestler; still one of the most entertaining heels anywhere who draws lots of heat and just has a face you want to slap; expect him to come far, maybe even to the semi-finals with lots of dirty tricks; also, lots of fans will get slapped by his trademark towel
8. Freddy Stahl: One of the most promising young guys in wXw now; he has an awesome physique and a great work ethic and had had great matches with Michael Elgin, Davey Richards, Tommy End, DJ Hyde, Drew Gulak and others over the past year; he’s been plagued by a knee injury and hopefully is back for good now; Walter took him unders his wing and it shows in his work as he gets better with every match; might be too soon for him to win the big one, but he for sure is a future world champion here, if not internationally
9. Tommaso Ciampa: the current Ring of Honor Television Champion and former ECWA Super 8 winner in 2011 obviously brings tournament experience to the table. He has been out of action for almost a year in 2012 with an ACL tear and came back to ROH with a vengeance and quickly won the TV title, which he’s been defending since December of last year. He’s also the first guy to defend the title outside of North America, which happened at a recent wXw show at the end of February against Freddy Stahl, so it might be time for a rematch here. He’s considered a dark-horse in this tournament by many regular wXw fans.
10. Robert Dreissker: one of only two currently competing exceptional professional wrestlers born and raised in Austria (the other one being his mentor Big van Walter). He’s modeled himself after Walter as well and has improved by leaps and bounds since his debut in 2009. He’s a strong style wrestler and a super heavyweight who can move like a lightweight inside the squared circle. Nicknamed “The Avalanche”, he’ll look to roll over the competition. One intriguing match-up that many fans would like to see in the tournament would be the good old fashioned “teacher vs. student” bout, going toe to toe with Big van Walter. The two also are former tag team champions as the AUT-siders, having won the title at the final day of last year’s tournament and holding it until November when they lost it to current champs Hot & Spicy in what was voted Germany’s match of the year in Hamburg. He has had a few tours with Big Japan, including training at their dojo and has never disappointed inside the ring. He busts his butt every time and is a candidate to go all the way, if not now, then in the next year or two. Great guy, great talent who might also pop up on some US indies fairly soon.
11. 2Face: Here’s an interesting character – he is currently in an angle with current co-owner Christian Michael Jakobi and wXw founder HATE. They are playing off the fact that there is a faction of fans, especially in Oberhausen who enjoyed the “old wXw” more than the “new” one – the days of when HATE still was the owner of wXw and they had rowdy crowds, lots of fly-ins and hardly any local talent, which was fun but not very financially successful. These are also the guys who detest Bad Bones and don’t get a lot into the new Dojo talent, which they are trying to build up as the local and future stars, which makes the most business sense. 2Face attacked Jakobi and Dojo students numerous times and is aligned with HATE. He also ranted and raved about never getting a chance in wXw while the younger guys get everything served on a golden plate. HATE then managed to get him in a mini-tournament for a spot, which he won, but he legit injured his knee in the process, so hopefully he can compete; expect some sort of angle with Jakobi or Dojo guys to cost him the match or maybe getting counted out when attacking someone on the outside; he’ll be a face to some and a heel to others in the crowd, which will be an interesting dynamic
12. Axel “Axeman” Tischer: The current wXw ShotGun! (kind of television, but they have a YouTube show and are not on television) Champion and former wXw World Unified Champion; he is very good in the ring and had tremendous matches, especially with some of the Japanese guys; the problem is, he’s not a very good promo and never really got over really big with the fans as a face. He also runs a wrestling school in Dresden and trained former ShotGun! Champion Ilja Dragunov, who is out with a head injury since November. Axeman replaced Dragunov in a steel cage match against Carnage in January, competing for his student. In the process, he turned heel and received assistance from Svetlana Kalashnikova, one of the greatest valets in any promotions right now, who is a mix of a Sensational Sherri in her craziest days and a female version of Nikolai Volkoff and any Soviet stereotype wrestler you ever saw. She’s a Dojo trainee and a very intelligent woman who actually teaches on the university level. She has the character down to a science and is worth the price of admission alone. She’s now aligned with Axeman and adds to his rather bland character; she is also involved with referee Markus Weiss who has the hots for her and plays kind of a doofus who doesn’t realize he is being played by her; expect the Svetlana-Weiss dynamic to play in some of the Axeman matches and there might also be an angle with Carnage who is still looking for revenge; Axeman also faked an injury in a mini-tournament, which was won by his former tag-team partner Ivan Kiev, who offered Axeman a match for the spot at any time, once he’s healthy again. Axeman took the offer up right away, Svetlana attacked Kiev with the belt and Axeman won a very quick match, adding more heat to his heel character
13. Ricky Marvin: here is a guy who has become synonymous with the 16 Carat tournament over the last couple of years. He’s been one of the standout performers in wXw for years at the 16 Carat events. He has traded the pretty boy appearance for aggression and is smooth as hell in his execution. He also stole the show with current World Champion Tommy End a few years back and many fans would love to see that match again, which begs the question if he might be able to win the whole thing and challenge Tommy End. The NOAH regular has been teaming with Super Crazy all over the world and has claimed multiple tag team and junior heavyweight titles over his career. He’s now a grizzled veteran and along with Ciampa is another favorite to win the entire thing this weekend.
14. Ryuichi Kawakami: the protégé of Daisuke Sekimot is representing Big Japan Pro Wrestling in this year’s tournament. He’s not yet a big a star in Germany as his fellow co-workers Daisuke Sekimoto and Yuji Okabayashi who have both grown as performers here in Oberhausen, but that very well may change over the course of the weekend. He’s a BJW regular who’s still very young but rock solid in the ring. He’s also worked for NOAH in the past and with BJW’s three top stars (Sekimoto, Okabayashi and Masashi Takeda) out of action at the moment it’s his time to shine.
15. Big van Walter: the behemoth from Austria has become one of the resting pillars wXw has been built upon over the last six to seven years; he has had tours with Big Japan and other Japanese promotions and is generally one of the best workers, especially as strong-style goes in Europe right now; he is a two-time wXw world champion and has had legendary battle with Japanese powerhouse Daisuke Sekimoto which quickly have garnered the reputation of becoming the European equivalent of Flair/Steamboat or Misawa/Kobashi; he also won the tournament once before in 2010 against ironically Chris Hero in dramatic fashion and destroyed the trophy mid-ring immediately after in a major sign of disrespect; in storyline he has matured a lot and now demands that his peers respect the organization, the world title and the business in general – this has him at odds with world champion Tommy End, who he deems unworthy of being a world champion as he lacks the proper respect for the role and thinks that Tommy might undo everything he has worked hard to build up over those last few years
16. Chris Hero: one of wXw earliest U.S. talents has returned to the promotion during “Back to the Roots XII” in January after his stint in WWE. Hero is one of the original trainers of a lot of the early wXw talent and also helped along with shaping the promotion into the success it is nowadays; he lost to Bad Bones in January but vowed to return for the Carat, taking the final spot in the tournament and win the whole thing to become wXw world champion; he is one of the most popular guys around, with both old school (“wXw as it used to be”) and newer fans rooting for him; a clash with Walter at some point seems inevitable, maybe even an updated version of the 2010 finals, he may also look to avenge the loss in his return match against Bad Bones; Hero won the 16 Carat once before in 2007; since his return to the indies he also captured the EVOLVE title from A.R. Fox recently
Of course, we will be sending in reports for all three days, along with any scoops and infos we can get. There also probably will be a DKP episode with Alan4L and maybe one or both of us on the 16 Carat over the next week or two.
Patrick & Markus Gronemann