This coming weekend, the wrestling world will be looking to Oberhausen, Germany, once again.
The mid-sized city of about 210,000 people usually doesn't have all that much going for it. There's the CentrO (one of the biggest malls in Europe), a concert arena that both WWE and WCW ran in the past and that hosts a number or musicals throughout the year. Besides that, it's neither very pretty nor very important on a global scale. About 20 minutes from the Düsseldorf airport, it sits amid the Ruhr area, which isn't exactly the most inviting part of the country you could venture to.
And yet, this coming weekend, about 1600 wrestling fans from all around Europe and the world will come to this town, pack the Turbinenhalle, a concert arena that usually hosts either metal concerts or techno parties and generally go crazy as the 15th annual wXw 16 Carat Gold Tournament starts this Friday, led in by a more intimate Inner Circle show on Thursday, hosted at the wXw Academy in nearby Essen.
Besides the three-day tournament, there will also be an AMBITION tournament (shoot style wrestling, much like Bloodsport, which was somewhat inspired by the format), a showcase for promotions from all around the world, which are features on the promotion's wXwNOW streaming service, another show taped for the service on Sunday afternoon, and a morning show by WrestlingKULT, a smaller German indy promotion that runs the KULT Tempel, a smaller arena right next to the bigger Turbinenhalle.
There also will be an afterparty going on after the show on Saturday, so those so inclined can enjoy wrestling related activities from 10 AM to about 4 AM the next day. No wonder some call this weekend the European version of WrestleMania. Looking at some of the 130 participants that competed (and will compete) at 16 Carat over the years, the star power certainly is there.
Past Participants: A Who's Who of Indie Stars
Some of the winners and runner-ups of previous tournaments: Tommy End (Aleister Black, twice), WALTER, Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno, twice), Zack Sabre Jr., El Generico (Sami Zayn), Ilja Dragunov, Sami Callihan and SHINGO are among the more well-known names who took home the 16 Tournament Cup in the past as well as German mainstays "Bad Bones" John Klinger, Lucky Kid, Absolute Andy, and Baron von Hagen.
Other names that made the finals since 2006 include Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan), Drake Younger (current NXT referee Drake Wuertz), Axel Tischer (Alexander Wolfe), Axel Dieter Jr. (Marcel Barthel), and David Starr.
They were joined by a who's who of names now or formerly active in either WWE/NXT, AEW, ROH, or Japan: ACH (formerly Jordan Miles), Adam Cole, Angelico, Cedric Alexander, Chris Brookes, Chris Sabin, Chuck Taylor, Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro), Cody Rhodes, Colt Cabana, Daisuke Sekimoto, Davey Richards, Donovan Dijak(ovic), Doug Williams, Drew Gallowy (McIntyre), Eddie Kingston, Fenix, Fit Finlay, Go Shiozaki, Jimmy Jacobs, Johnny Gargano, Johnny Moss, Jonah Rock (Bronson Reed), Jonathan Gresham, Keith Lee, KUSHIDA, Mark Haskins, Martin Stone (Danny Burch), Marty Scurll, Matt Jackson, Matt Riddle, Matt Striker, Matt Sydal, Nick jackson, Nigel McGuinness, PAC, Paul London, PCO, Pentagon Jr., Rey Horus, Ricky Marvin, Ricochet, Rocky Romero, Shane Strickland (Isaiah Swerve Scott), Silas Young, Super Crazy, Timothy Thatcher, Tomasso Ciampa, Travis Banks, Trent, Trevor Lee (Cameron Grimes), Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), Uhaa Nation (Apollo Crews), Will Ospreay, and Yuji Okabayashi all were part of one or more tournaments over the years.
You can just imagine some of the matches those guys put on.
The 2020 lineup
This year feels a tad different than past year as some of the indie star power isn't there. wXw entered into a relationship with WWE at some point during the past 18 months, so some names currently affiliated with AEW or ROH seem to be off limits. Nonetheless, when WWE pulled Lio Rush from competing at the tournament today, wXw stepped in and booked Jeff Cobb, who was been affiliated with both rival promotions recently, but is a free agent for all intents and purposes. The rest of the field also looks intriguing.
Another name who canceled, due to the recent coronavirus outbreak in Europe, was Alex Shelley who cited health risks as he works in the medical field and has a lot of immunocompromised patients who he did not want to put at risk. He would not have been in the tournament, but was scheduled to appear as a special attraction on Saturday.
Melanie Gray, who would have made her return to Oberhausen as she lost a loser leaves town match in January 2019 and just won a match to allow her to appear in the city again last month, injured her knee in training and looks to be needing surgery, so she is out. Veit Müller, the sole remaining full-time member of Ringkampf, the original Imperium group, also canceled his appearance for the weekend.
wXw just announces first round matches but no brackets, so each day, the matches from the second round up are a surprise to the fans:
Marus Al-Ani vs. Cara Noir
Al-Ani, a wXw regular, enters the 16 Carat for the fourth time, making the second round in his 2017 debut, but eliminated in the first round in both 2018 and 2019. Coming off a recent suspension (he actually slapped a fan who insulted him in late September 2019), he looks to advance to the wXW main event picture and a good showing might put him there. A smaller but very muscular and athletic wrestler, he also regularily competes at various fitness themed competitions on TV and also had some smaller TV roles.
Noir, the current PROGRESS champion, is a unique character. Known as "The Black Swan" of pro wrestling, he has a unique entrance and great ring costume and is no slouch in the ring as some of his past matches with PAC or Mike Bailey showed. He makes his wXw in-ring debut here as he challenged Al-Abi during January's Back to the Roots marquee event. Both men need to make an impact here, so it's hard to make a prediction.
Jeff Cobb vs. Alexander James
Cobb, the former Olympic athlete is one of the hottest and most sought-after wrestlers of 2020. Attached to ROH until recently, he made his AEW debut as Chris Jericho's paid mercenary several weeks ago ago and is expected to return to New Japan later in the year. He is an impressive wrestler, a great worker, and has a very charismatic personality. As a late replacement for the aforementioned Lio Rush, I'm not sure how he figures into the plans, but the fans will certainly love him. He was supposed to be in the 16 Carat a few years ago, but had to cancel due to Lucha Underground tapings at the time, so it's a bit of poetic justice he now enters the tournament as a late replacement.
The dastardly Maryland native James enters the tournament for the second time after losing in the first round back in 2018. Originally trained by Drew Gulak, he has progressed to become an accomplished worker and semi-regular with wXw. He is a trainer at the wXw Academy and generally has a very technical, albeit brutal, style and is great on promos. He recently lost a blood feud against former tag partner and best friend Jurn Simmons and certainly could use a win to bounce back from his recent losses. I still see Cobb going over here and James possibly being motivated for even more drastic measures, especially since his real-life relationship with fellow wXw import Killer Kelly was recently burst as part of the show.
Bandido vs. Julian Pace
Making his wXw debut, Bandido is arguably is one of the hottest names in indie wrestling today and has tournament experience, winning PWG's BOLA tournament this past September. His first major U.S. appearance was as part of the first All In main event, where he teamed with Rey Mysterio and Rey Fenix against the Golden Elite. Since, he has become a regular in ROH and also appears in CMLL as well as in New Japan. A good performance in 16 Carat would certainly also make him more of a household name in Europe where he already performed for both PROGRESS and RevPro.
Pace is a wXw success story and a testament to their wrestling school. He made his debut nearly four years ago and had no prior wrestling experience before starting to train at the school in Essen, Germany. Within a few years, he became one of the best, quick high flyers in Europe and has incredible speed and athletic ability. He began showing more charisma and intensity over the past year and certainly will be one of the building blocks for the company going forward. A win over Bandido would be the biggest win in his career and would make him a bigger star before his home crowd. This is his first time in 16 Carat and will certainly not be his last.
Daniel Makabe vs. Eddie Kingston
Makabe, already a veteran of 16 years, has largely flown under the radar on the U.S. indie scene until recently. The Canadian grappling expert is a regular with 3-2-1 BATTLE! in Seattle, where he had an awesome match series against fellow mat expert Timothy Thatcher. He recently also wrestled for Beyond, Black Label Pro and DEFY, so he is starting to built up his indie reputation. He also seems like one of the genuine nicest people in wrestling and got very emotional last October during a media event where he talked about what the Thatcher match series and his opponent's appreciation meant to him. He first appeared for wXw's AMBITION 11 tournament over SummerSlam weekend in August and later was booked in Germany for World Tag Team Festival this past October.
Kingston has been around even a year longer than Makabe, but was featured on a more prominent stage over the course of his career. A veteran of the indies, he appeared for ROH, EVOLVE, CZW, CHIKARA, AAW, Impact, Beyond, House of Hardcore and many others and recently also has been more active in Europe, wrestling for promotions such as RevPro, PROGRESS, OTT, ATTACK!, Fight Club: PRO and Schadenfreude & Friends to name a few. Kingston appeared at 16 Carat back in 2013 and wa scheduled to team with David Starr at Tag Festival this past October, but had to pull out due to a family emergency.
Both men would benefit from a win here with Makabe looking to be the more logical choice to go over due to him maybe being able to make a second home here in Germany, much as Thatcher did in the past.
Chris Ridgeway vs. Mike Bailey
Ridgeway is one of the rising stars coming out of Europe and breaking out internationally. The 26-year old with a martial arts background extensively toured with NOAH in recent months, where he joined the Stinger stable and participated in the Global Junior League. He started in 2012 and was trained by Robbie Brookside and Johnny Moss, both men currently working in the WWE's developmental system on both sides of the Atlantic. He may well be on WWE's radar and a good performance with one of their partner promotions could raise his stock.
Bailey is one of the most talented workers in recent years, but unfortunately can't show off his ring prowess in the U.S. as he tried entering the country on a tourist visa in order to wrestle, got caught, and banned from the for five years, a ban that should be lifted next year. A martial arts aficionado himself, he incorporates the style with exciting high flying action and has repeatedly enchanted wXw fans with his matches. The Canadian native has made Europe his second home, and appears for promotions such as wXw, GWF, RevPro, OTT and Fight Club: PRO on a regular basis. He also is a semi-regular with DDT in Japan and a number of indies in Canada. Bailey competed at 16 Carat in the past, getting eliminated in the first round in 2016 and making round two in 2017.
The Rotation vs. Puma King
Rotation is another homegrown talent of wXw, originally starting out in the Westside Dojo, the wXw Academy's predecessor. An exciting high flyer on the small side, he toured with DTU in Mexico a few years ago and noticeably improved his style there. He is spectacular as a flyer and knows his lucha, so pairing him with anybody with a similar style always is a good idea. He buffed up a bit over the past year, which seems to have made him less injury prone. He is part of wXw's trainer staff at the academy and had been booked for a UK tour with ROH. He also had a hand in training the aforementioned Pace, who he joins in making his 16 Carat debut.
Puma King, the son of El Felino and nephew of Negro Casasm has been a mainstay with CMLL for most of his career before joining rival promotion AAA in mid-2018 as part of Liga Elite. He made his U.S. debut in 2019, wrestling for promotions such as Impact, MLW, PWG, GCW and APW. He appeared for NJPW through the NJPW/CMLL working agreement and after leaving CMLL, he returned to Japan to wrestle for DDT in 2019. The 29-year-old is an exciting luchador and should have a great match with Rotation. He has teamed with Black Taurus in the past, so a loss by either man in an early round would probably mean seeing them in some exciting tag team action over the rest of the weekend.
Shigehiro Irie vs. Black Taurus
Irie, a Japanese journeyman wrestler, has been touted as some as the next incarnation of Daisuke Sekimoto. While not quite there yet, he has an impressive, burly physique and is a very good-to-great worker. He generally enters into "Beast Mode" at some point during his matches and displays his raw power, fulfilling the crowd's desire of "Auf die Fresse" (beating somebody up). The 31-year old was a regular in wXw from December 2018 until March 2019 and also appeared for their Amerika ist Wunderbar show over WrestleMania weekend in April before briefly returning at the Shortcut to the Top battle royal this past August.
He wrestles everywhere from AJPW, BJW, DDT, Wrestle-1 and ZERO1 in Japan to wXw, PROGRESS, RevPro, ATTACK! and Fight Club: PRO in Europe to MLW, SMASH and Black Label Pro in North America. He certainly is a crowd favorite and someone who could easily make round three or even the finals without feeling out of place there.
Taurus made his debut for AAA in 2012 as Machine Rocker as part of Los Inferno Rockers and feuded with Los Psycho Circus. After departing AAA in 2016, he took up the mantle of Black Tauro and also wrestled for CMLL, The Crash, and IWRG, among others. He returned to AAA in 2018 and also started making appearances in the U.S., working for promotions such as Impact, MLW and PWG. A rather burly wrestler for lucha standards, he is nonetheless an impressive flyer. He teamed with Puma King in the past and also clashed with Bandido as part of a six-man effort in PWG in the past, so even if he doesn't get very far in the tournament, we certainly will get some exciting matches out of him this weekend.
Lucky Kid vs. Jurn Simmons
Lucky Kid won last year's tournament (after being eliminated in round two one year earlier), beating Timothy Thatcher, Axel Dieter jr. (Marcel Barthel), Ilja Dragunov, and upsetting WALTER in the finals. A former tag team specialist with Tarkan Aslan in the Young Lions, Lucky broke out as a singles star over the past few years. He made his PWG debut over BOLA weekend and was booked for a UK tour with ROH last year, teaming with Kyle Fletcher and replacing the injured Mark Davis. He was part of the RISE stable in wXw and still is associated with Schadenfreude in many of the UK indy promotions, including their own Schadenfreude & Friends league.
Fan support has dwindled in recent months as Lucky seemed lost in the partly aborted RISE vs. Schadenfreude feud when Mark Davis got injured and Chris Brookes got an offer to work for DDT in Japan. He quickly disposed of his former RISE associates Pete Bouncer and Ivan Kiev and got some wins in recent months, but certainty hasn't arrived where someone who won Carat one year ago should be. Recently, a mysterious big eye appeared on the screen, distracting him in a four-way match eventually won by Simmons, so maybe a new storyline opportunity will pop up here if that person is revealed. The wXw office certainly knows about the problem and have assured fans that they have a way to fix things.
Simmons is a powerhouse from the Netherlands who seemingly has it all: a great look, good in-ring abilities, and tremendous promo skills when he is on. Quick-witted and with a good sense of humor, he equally works as a face and as a heel, even though he seems to prefer the latter role. A former wXw Unified World Wrestling champion, he fell from grace a few years back. Being stuck in the midcard, he teamed with Alexander James as The Crown, an alliance that ended when James turned on him after their first round loss at Tag Festival last year. They were involved in an intense, albeit somewhat lackluster feud, which culminated with Simmons standing tall after a bloody barbed wire cage match in January, looking to go on to bigger and better things.
As with Lucky, a win here might be the first step in catapulting him back to the main event scene, where many longtime fans believe he belongs. This certainly will be a match that both men need to win badly.
Alternate Four Way: Rust Taylor vs. Scotty Davis vs. Norman Harras vs. Hektor
The winner gets into the tournament if somebody gets injured. Honestly, all four deserve a spot.
A number of title matches are scheduled for the weekend, some with high stakes while others will progress or culminate storylines:
wXw Tag Team Champions The Pretty Bastards (Maggot & Prince Ahura) vs. Jay-AA (Absolute Andy & Jay Skillet) (Friday)
These two have been clashing for a while now, leading to the de facto face turn of Jay-AA. who are super over with the fans as an entertaining comedy act. All four are good workers and this should be a great, fun match. The Bastards should keep the belts here as the story can be drawn out until the summer.
wXw World Unified Wrestling Champion Bobby Gunns vs. David Starr in a title vs. career match (Saturday)
Gunns won the title in a four way with champion Timothy Thatcher, Ilja Dragunov, and Starr back in December (Thatcher signed with WWE around that time), becoming a two-time champion. He since was on the losing end of the "Käfigschlacht" in January, a single cage, War-Games-style match against Starr, Avalanche, Julian Pace, and Leon van Gasteren, teaming with his stablemates Norman Harras and The Pretty Bastards.
He then defeated Avalanche in Hamburg at Dead End in February after interference by his stablemates. Starr, the current OTT and SWE champion was involved in a heated feud with Dragunov over the past few months, finally beating him in an unsanctioned match. He challenged Gunns to a title match and put his own career on the line, claiming that he had to come through since he neither won 16 Carat nor beat long-time rival WALTER in the past.
The stakes are high and there are some possibilities either way. Starr could lose and depart wXw, the promotion that put him on the map in Europe and arguably the international indie scene too. In a statement, he talked about what it would mean to him to be gone from wXw. If he wins, there is the possibility of facing WALTER, the man he never beat, down the line and finally catching his white whale, so to speak.
Starr is very outspoken and anti-establishment, looking to progress unionization and healthcare for those in the business. Some speculate he could leave for a bigger promotion. Then, there is also the question of who wins 16 Carat as that leads up to the big program over the summer. While some see Jurn Simmons as the favorite, Simmons vs. Starr has been done in the past and while those matches were good, it's not something new.
Gunns' title reigns have been somewhat lackluster with his new stable not quite living up to the standard of previous big heel stables in the company. They are comprised of young talents with good in-ring skills and great charisma, but they still need to click. Gunns winning on the big stage (he was in the main events of 16 Carat and World tag league/Festival shows in the past) would certainly legitimize him to a bigger audience. Again, the future program with the 16 Carat winner would be key here, so those who believe Gunns will win, see either Julian Pace or Shigehiro Irie as the winners. Gunns has history with both men.
In theory, we could see some kind of screwjob or no contest finish, but wXw usually doesn't do those at these kinds of shows, and it would be a mistake to try it out in front of their biggest crowd at the biggest show of the year.
AMBITION 12 (Saturday at noon)
This is the 12th installment of wXw's shoot style concept that started in 2010. After almost being cancelled after four installments due to little fan support, putting it on at festival weekends with more sophisticated international fans on hand gave the concept a second lease on life and inspired similar concepts in the UK and the U.S.
These shows are always fun and unique, which makes them both special and must-see. Previous winners include Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan), Rico Bushido, Axel Tischer (Alexander Wolfe), Zack Sabre Jr., Sasa keel, Carnage, Matt Riddle, Timothy Thatcher, Shigehiro Irie, and WALTER.
First round matches scheduled are Mike Bailey vs. Scotty Davis, Kevin Lloyd vs. Daniel Makabe, Vincent Heisenberg vs. Chris Ridgeway, and Tyson Dux vs. Rust Taylor in addition to the superfight and a "Next Generation fight" of Ethan Allen vs. Luke Jacobs.
Yuki Ishikawa vs. Daisuke Ikeda (AMBITION 12 superfight - Saturday)
Those two 50+ year old shoot style legends will battle it out in a fight for the ages. Ishikawa has been in for AMBITION last year, where he battled protege Timothy Thatcher and again for the promotion in Toronto past August. Ikeda can go with him hold for hold, and those two have teamed and wrestled numerous times over the past 25 years. If you are into MMA, Bloodsport events, or any other kind of grappling, this will be the match for you.
wXwNOW Showcase (Saturday afternoon)
wXwNOW is wXw's streaming service, which also includes a number of other promotions from Europe and around the world. Those promotions will get the chance to put on one match each to showcase their talent, style, and unique brand.
- Brent Banks vs. Tyson Dux vs. Tarik vs. Sebastian Suave (SMASH Wrestling from Canada)
- Joe Gacy vs. Anthony Greene (CZW)
- Kaiden vs. Rizo (White Wolf Wrestling from Spain)
- Lexa Valo vs. Kat von Kaige (British Empire Wrestling)
- Peter Olisander vs. Emeritus vs. Michael Fynne (Bodyslam Pro Wrestling from Denmark)
- Carnage vs. Mexxberg (Wrestling KULT from Germany)
- Luca de Pazzi vs. Nicolo Inverardi (Wrestling Promotion RIsing Sun from Italy)
wXw Shotgun Champion Avalanche vs. Ilja Dragunov (Sunday)
The build to this was basically Dragunov challenging Avalanche backstage after being involved in the post-match angle of Avalanche vs. Gunns. Those two have been both teammates and opponents in the past, and this looks to be a great strong style match. Avalanche should win as Dragunov is under a WWE contract and not available at all times.
wXw Women's Champion Amale vs. TBA (Sunday Night)
Amale was supposed to wrestle Melanie Gray, who recently won the right to return to Oberhausen after losing a loser leaves town match to Toni Storm in early 2019. Unfortunately, Melanie injured her knee and seems to need surgery. Amale beat all of the regular women and all of the fly-ins put in front of her, often cheating, and Melanie was the last hope to beat her. It's everyone's guess who will be her opponent with Killer Kelly being the most logical name as she was the one facing Melanie in a number one contenders match.
Amale also has been involved in a storyline with Director of Sports Karsten Beck who seemingly has the hots for her, but there also is Levaniel, the "Prince of the Stars", who seemingly has some love for Amale. I expect some kind of love triangle or angle-heavy conclusion of this storyline over the coming months.
Yuki Ishikawa & Timothy Thatcher vs. Daisuke Ikeda & WALTER (Sunday)
Playing off the previous match, this will be Thatcher's wXw farewell for the time being as he teams with his mentor against former friend WALTER and Ikeda. This will be gruesome, hard hitting and a strong style battle for the ages, plus probably a very emotional farewell for the man that Oberhausen lost its heart to over the years.
Even more wrestling
A wXwNOW feature event is scheduled for Sunday afternoon which will feature WALTER. Also, Wrestling KULT from Germany runs a morning show on Saturday at 10 AM featuring wrestlers such as Absolute Andy, Tom LaRuffa, Carnage, Rico Bushido, Norman Harras, Julian Pace, and others.
The kickoff to the weekend happened with Inner Circle at the wXw Academy last night featuring a secret lineup. This was a fun show with some very good matches, especially the main event of Yuki Ishikawa & Daisuke Ikeda beating Chris Ridgeway & Daniel Makabe.