Friday, May 26, 2017

Indie Wrestling Alive and Well in Vancouver: ECCW review

The idea of professional wrestling outside of the WWE, the biggest company in “sports entertainment”, is foreign to most people.  They might think of backyard wrestling, barbed wire, and the movie the Wrestler.  It comes as a surprise that independent wrestling is alive and well (and family-friendly) in the Vancouver area.  Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling’s Shooting Star 6 event at the Russian Community Centre on Saturday night may not have been Wrestlemania, but the two and a half hours of pro wrestling action served up  in Kitsilano were just as exciting for the live audience as anything on Pay-Per-View.

This was grassroots wrestling at its finest.  ECCW embodies the independent wrestling ethos that harkens back to a time when local territories were the highest level of the sport…


ECCW, who have carved out a niche as the premier pro wrestling outfit for the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, played out a classic show right from the opening bell.  It signaled the start of a five-man (and one woman!) elimination brawl, where characters like the King of the Yukon impressed the crowd with their athleticism and charisma.  Like other independent wrestling promotions, ECCW operates as a “minor league” and revels in it.  While it lacks the production values of the WWE, it makes up for it in entertainment value.  In the small but crowded community centre, there’s no steel barrier separating them from wrestlers trading stiff shots and flying through the ropes just feet away.  In what was almost a family atmosphere, the colourful cast and comic elements of the show made the risks each wrestler took even more impressive.  With each bump and loud thud from the mat, the sounds and sights – and, let’s face it, the smells – made it a sensory experience that drew the crowd in until they were counting each pin with the referee.

ECCW have been around since 1996, and the experience shines through in the smooth pacing of the matches.  The combination of top-rope moves and classic wrestling tropes like grappling and suplexes kept the fans on their toes, and for the most part, the speeches to the crowd were short and to the point.  The highlight of the card came in a tag team match, essential for any night of wrestling, where a partnership called “the Riot” took on “the Stallions” in and out of the ring.  The high-flying moves showcased some of the best the company has to offer, including injury-defying frankensteiners and high spots through the ropes.

In the main event, the Yukon King, a berserker-type crowd favourite, would be the top “face” (or good guy) for the evening, taking on El Phantasmo, who had been established as a “heel” (or bad guy) by interfering in the opener to cement his spot in the finale.  The steel cage match, billed as the first of its kind in Vancouver, saw a back-and-forth contest culminating in a top-rope superplex from the Yukon King that stole the show.  The grizzled northerner applied a couple of finishing rams into the turnbuckle and pinned El Phantasmo for the three-count, earning a title shot the next time ECCW hits Vancouver.  The two are among several unique characters at the company that you can’t help but think would work in the big leagues.  Others look as though they’ve been modelled after WWE stars, including Cremator, an ECCW stalwart who looks like a mix of the Undertaker and his masked “brother”, Kane.

Watching the action on Saturday, one got the feeling that this was grassroots wrestling at its finest.  ECCW embodies the independent wrestling ethos that harkens back to a time when local territories were the highest level of the sport, with the National Wrestling Alliance regulating a network of organizations that traded talent.  Indeed, ECCW market themselves as the only Canadian member of the modern NWA, and wrestlers like Chicago’s “Ethan HD” evoke the touring wrestler role of years gone by.  Absent on Saturday night, though, was the archetype of the aging superstar reduced to wrestling in high school gyms and community centres; instead, a youthful cast keeping things moving throughout the night.  Recent months’ cards, though, have featured  the Honky Tonk Man, an ’80s WWF superstar, in an appearance that was no doubt reminiscent of Mickey Rourke’s character in the Wrestler.

A vignette projected onto a screen told us that Colt Cabana would be joining ECCW in December, who lashed into the NWA after a recent event but remains a star on the independent circuit.  Until then, the company continues its rotation around the region, returning to Vancouver on December 8th.

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