Since beginning our live-review podcast on independent wrestling; Making Towns at the end of December 2015, I have been blessed to learn so much about this world that exists largely outside of mainstream coverage. As of this writing, I have been able to attend 11 different shows on both the east and west coast and have seen 79 matches in-person over the past two months. The overall experience has been outstanding and nearly every show I’ve attended has put forth at least one very good-to-great match which makes justifying the weekly travel that much easier. With that said, even the best matches that I’ve witnessed do not qualify as a once in a lifetime, transcendent viewing experience. That would change when I traveled to Gibsonville, NC for the 2/27 CWF Mid-Atlantic “End of an Era” show that would feature Trevor Lee challenging Roy Wilkins for their world title. The stipulation of the match was that if Lee failed to win – his career in CWF would be over.
Before diving in to the match, let’s briefly cover Trevor Lee – a man that most people reading this review are likely quite familiar with. I have been fortunate to see Trevor live 6 times over the past year in both PWG and CWF. His recent run on TNA with the X-Division title has garnered a few more eyeballs and as a performer he is someone that deserves the ever-increasing praise that is thrown his way. With his notoriety on the rise, it was plausible if not probable that he would be on the losing end of this stipulation as I would understand if his growing commitments would prohibit him from being a fixture in CWF. The feeling that this could be Trevor’s last night in the company was a constant murmur in the building all night, and was a vital component of the story to be told in the main event.
Roy Wilkins on the other hand is someone that the vast majority of you are completely unfamiliar with. I would be remiss however if I did not hammer home the point that the ultimate success or failure of this match rested almost completely on his shoulders. Roy had to be able to execute the role as a villain at a near flawless level given the length of time this match would occupy, and he had to be able to do so in a manner that didn’t become stagnant or repetitive. The level of versatility this requires as a performer cannot be understated, and its why those of you who follow me on twitter (@dspencecantlose), or listen to Making Towns have heard me beating the drum for Wilkins’ as a criminally slept-on performer since January. I would highly recommend the no-ropes match between Trevor and Roy, along with the Six-Pack Challenge from Battlecade 2015 as companion viewing for those of you who would like to get more familiar with both individuals.
The match itself would be no-disqualification, no-holds-barred, with the title changing hands only via pinfall or submission. Roy would be seconded initially by his cohorts in the All Stars faction, the incomparable Coach Gemini (seriously, one of the best heel managers you will ever see) and Chappy – Wilkins’ “young boy” of sorts. Trevor would be alone, even eschewing his usual Katy Perry entrance theme for the more fitting “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”. I don’t believe this match requires any qualifiers, but I do think it is worth pointing out that there are two key variables in my viewing experience that will not exist in yours. First, I had no idea how long this match would go whereas you are aware that the runtime on this story is 105 minutes. Second, I did not go into the show knowing who would be the victor. If you have remained unspoiled to this point, I will not disclose the final result – but otherwise some of the drama may be lost on those of you who are already aware of the outcome.
The story being told in this match would take place over what I will refer to as three individual “acts”, each of which had clearly defined but interconnected themes that tethered the overall narrative together. The first of these acts would be an almost complete hold-for-hold grappling exhibition between Wilkins and Lee. This entire segment was a callback to many of the things explored in their no-ropes match and did a great job of establishing unequivocally that Trevor is the better wrestler as he assaulted Wilkins’ arm and leg for close to 20 minutes. This is the foundation of any hero-vs.-villain story, and both men played their roles perfectly in establishing the foundation for the rest of the match. Wilkins’ understanding that “getting his shit in” is not in the best service to the story is something that should be applauded, reiterated, and screamed from the mountain top at the wrestling industry as a whole. This match simply does not work if Wilkins is not fully committed to cementing that Lee is the superior technician.
The dividends of the unselfish performance by both men begin to pay off in the second act, where Wilkins and his entourage begin to chop Trevor down both figuratively and literally with underhanded tactics. The level of effectiveness in getting heat on Wilkins is elevated substantially due to the work in Act 1 because the audience had become fully invested in Trevor besting Roy at every turn. Had this been a match where both men were presented as equals, the cheating would have come across cheaply – but in this case everyone watching was aware that these tactics were the only way Wilkins had even a remote chance of winning.
A common analogy in screenwriting is that all movies center on “putting a cat in a tree” and then writing around how the hero will rescue it. The higher the tree, the more drama the story will inherently contain. This match would use a similar mechanism except it would stick Trevor in a tree planted inside a pool filled with piranhas and then light the trunk on fire. As the second act comes to a close, the entirety of the All Stars faction hits the ring and begins to beat down Lee. If I had to be critical of anything in this match, this section of time is where I feel it could have been condensed for Trevor to make his comeback sooner as the bludgeoning by the heels approached overkill level. Like many fans, I tend to loathe interference in matches as it is often unearned and used to escape from a story without a great deal of imagination. In this context however, I would liken it to cameo appearances in the Marvel series of films. This interference served both the individual story while showcasing that everything was part of a larger universe within the CWF framework. In respects to the comeback itself, there was a genius moment of allowing Lee to fire back on each of the All Stars before a contingent of faces stormed the ring to remove them from the match all together. This allowed the match to further several company feuds and worked in setting the stage for the final stretch between Wilkins and Lee.
I’ve purposefully left out descriptions of actual spots and sequences because I feel that those should be experienced, and because I believe that story always trumps a collection of moves. With that said, the third act of the match (80 minutes or so in) was the most intense, violent, hard-hitting segment by far and even if viewed as a stand-alone segment rivals the intensity of anything I can recall. Both men are firing at full speed as the desperation reaches a fevered pitch, but they do so in a manner that doesn’t betray everything that has been built to this point. All of the work done by Lee over an hour before begins to come full circle and the final climactic moments were nothing short of a master class in paying off every facet of the narrative presented from the first moment.
In wrapping this way too lengthy review up, this is one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. The degree of difficulty for two men to tell a cohesive story in wrestling for over an hour is staggering. I completely and fully understand the skepticism that probably exists with many of you who are reading this, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have an identical opinion. I also can’t say that you won’t absolutely disagree with this review since your viewing experience will be irreparably different than mine, as described earlier. However, I can’t in good conscience give this anything but the highest recommendation as a wrestling fan. In watching, I would suggest turning off your phone, popping popcorn, and treating this like the movie that it ultimately was.