It’s your tournament reviewer specialist Lawrence at it again. What a gift for the holidays, the rebirth of the Ted Petty Invitational has been released on Smart Mark and I’m overjoyed. It’s been since 2008 since the TPI was run; Ian Rotten has had so many issues trying to get the tournament back on its feet over the years due to finances but finally it came through this year. I reviewed the 2004 tournament recently on the former Phoenix Plex Review, an all time great tournament that set the paths of many of today’s top indie (and even some WWE) talent. I’m not sure if the TPI of this year can quite be that launching pad, but in this day of social media where the word gets out so quickly, maybe it can for these thirteen individuals in this year’s tournament. Here’s the field:
- Matt Cage
- Shane Mercer
- Slade Sludge
- Timothy Thatcher
- Russ Jones
- Jonathan Gresham
- Chris Hero
- Sugar D
- Reed Bentley
- Jordynne Grace
- Kongo Kong
A really neat field filled with some vets like Hy-Zaya and Chris Hero, who has been in every single TPI and won the first ever Sweet Science 16 (before it was called TPI) and then some real new faces like Slade Sludge, and current big names on the indies like Jon Gresham and Kongo Kong. Just a really cool assortment of talent and even Jordynne Grace made it as a female competitor. I believe 10 of the competitors did the pre tournament video promos on why they would win the TPI and I love that stuff. You get introduced to the people you aren’t as familiar with. The group picture of the field was taken, and we are OFF! Or are we? Reed “BY GOD” Bentley, the IWA:MS Champ cut a promo talking about how the company’s resurrection had been built on him and he’s taking responsibility for the TPI being able to make a comeback. He said he’s only defending the belt throughout the tournament because he wants to prove everyone in the crowd wrong and he wants to bring back tradition. Reed’s a heck of a promo, had the fans absolutely livid at him.
Can’t say I’m familiar with Sludge or Grace whatsoever. Cage is a solid hand whose work has been very good from what I have seen. By the way, this is a three way because of the number of competitors is at 13, so they had to slide an extra person into this opener. Should be neat. Slade’s such your typical skinny backwoods boy the locals seemed to absolutely love. He calls himself the Sloppy One. Don’t ever judge a Slate Sludge by its cover because BOY was he a damn firecracker in this one. This was such a fun opener that I may even be overrating a bit but I just loved what these three did here for the most part. Grace is a very good athlete herself and was flying all over the gym, and sold really well too especially when Cage nailed her with some incredibly stiff shots. The real highlights for me were when Slade and Cage faced off, they played off each other PERFECTLY. Slade as the underdog local boy who won his way into the tournament trying to get one over on Cage, the established current indie star with a more prototypical look. They had this sick battle on the apron where Cage went to kick Slade off but Slade caught the boot, slammed Cage to the apron and then hit a Blockbuster to Cage from the apron to the floor! For 10 minutes these guys and gal didn’t even really stop for rest holds and were high energy the whole time. Finally, after many close calls, Cage caught Sludge with the Money Clip after Sludge dispatched of Grace and Cage is onto round 2. Awesome way to start the show!
Gresham has been making quite the wave the past couple of years on the circuit. A hell of a technician that loves his sea based characters, he’s been all over having good matches and may be getting into ROH on a more regular basis now after a recent upset win over Cedric Alexander. Hy-Zaya has been a steady hand for IWA for a long time, and finally he gets to actually be in the tournament, cool story. This one started out with feel out mat work that you come to expect from a guy like Gresham. This was an okay match that suffered from a lot of stop and start bursts of offense from both guys. It never seemed to quite get going like I think they wanted it to, possibly just chemistry issues at work and it happens sometimes in tournament scenarios. When the match did pick up in those spontaneous bursts, they did some really neat stuff, including a suicide dive by Gresham I thought as gonna kill both dudes as they crashed into the metal chairs. Nice little final sequence saw Hy-Zaya come away with the victory after a Baldo Bomb and Swanton. Decent short match. Don’t think they were given enough time to let this one organically get better though. Good story for Hy-Zaya advancing in his first ever TPI after being involve din many of the previous TPI’s non-tourny matches.
Bentley sure has a lot of shit talk he needs to back up from the beginning of the show. And Russ Jones is one damn big dude to do that against. An incredibly hard hitting fight. Bentley is an amazing heel, and I mean amazing. I absolutely love what this guy does. He tried anyway he could to bend the rules to get around how massive Russ Jones was and talked junk while doing it. Reed makes you pay attention to him and he gets that’s what you’re supposed to do in the business. The brawling on the outside in the beginning was fun as the two just kicked the crap out of each other with boots, rolling elbows, etc. Bentley of course gained an advantage for awhile after tripping up Jones on the apron. At one point, Reed started making fun of Jones by doing the Brodus Clay Funkasaurus taunts and Russ had enough of Reed’s BS. He came storming back with a variety of suplexes and hard hitting forearms. Reminds me of a less gifted, stockier Taz. He was in god mode at this point, Reed tried doing Pepsi Twists to him and Jones acted like a mosquito hit him which was pretty great. Reed tried his patented Reed Awakening elbow and it was blocked, only for Jones to comes charging with a spear directly into a destructive Bentley forearm for a nearfall. Bentley even went for Pepsi Plunge a couple of times, clearly some weirdo from Chicago must be an influence. But on the Pepsi Plunge counter, Jones hit a second rope Uranage, but when he went for the diving headbutt he was met with knees. Bentley hammered him with Reed Awakening to keep the title and advance onwards. Really good match that saw Bentley come off as a total star to me with how athletic he is and how charismatic he is at the same time and one of the few that does the heel shtick right on the indies these days. Jones is a more than serviceable indie hoss though that I would have no problems pitting up against a superior worker for some interesting combinations. The back and forth battle in the second half paired with great counter wrestling really gave this one some juice and intensity. Bentley just continues to win me over when offering to shake Jones’ hand post match, and instead just flips him off and leaves.
Sugar D is a hell of a personality, huh? He’s a dude that will make you smile as soon as he enters a ring but he can certainly hold his own with many in the industry. Mercer is another IWA fella I’m not familiar with, but he’s a former IWA champ and can definitely be seen as a favorite in this tournament. Sugar D’s list of introduction names is amazing and includes “The All African American American” Black Swagger so there’s that. Mercer hails from his “Own personal hell” and is called the Iron Demon, weighing in at around 200 souls. Sounds like something an overly hormonal emo teenager would come up with but it’s cool, no judgement. I love wrestling. Honestly, gonna keep it short and sweet on this one. This wasn’t very good. I was near bored to sleep watching. It was built around Sugar D being a funny foil to the much more serious Mercer at first, then just turned into a very dull, terribly paced wrestling match. Mercer ended up winning with his Moonsault and Battery finisher which is an awesome flipping Fallaway Slam off the second rope, but that was the bright spot here. Very skippable first round match.
We’ve seen this story before. Hero and Thatcher often bring out the best in each other. Thatcher can sometimes be way too grounded for my liking and will slip into that for almost the whole match if he feels too comfortable which is why it’s good for Hero to be here and fire him up a bit. Hero is obviously beloved here as one of the founding fathers of IWA:MS and the initial Sweet Science 16/TPI winner in 2000 who has been in EVERY tournament. Crazy to think how long Hero has been doing this at such a high level. Love the structure of this one, as it started out in Thatcher’s wheelhouse on the mat with Hero trading holds right along with him. That’s the beauty of Chris, he can wrestle any guy’s match and also incorporate his hard hitting into it as well. Thatcher mercilessly attacked Hero’s arm throughout this, which is smart! Hero’s power lies within his strikes so that’s great psychology. Let alone one of these attacks was Thatcher literally almost breaking Hero’s fingers in two by pulling them apart. Dear god, I love when Thatcher has this sort of edge to him and makes him 1000 times better than when he’s just wrestling an emotionless match on the mat for 12 minutes. Mat work with purpose>random graps for the sake of graps. But with that, Hero did not fail to get in his shots like always, and a few of them were damn near so hard I thought ole Timmy may have been almost out of it a few times. Thatcher of course tried to get a little cute and go stand up with Chris Hero. Never a good idea as Chris took him to the damn woodshed on some strikes, but to Thatcher’s credit, his resilience was great and he continued to go to work on Hero and grab a hold of that arm in the Fujiwara Armbar when he could. The ending stretch was neat too as Hero clocked Thatcher with the rolling elbow, and went to push Thatcher’s dead weight over for a pin, but Thatcher played a bit of possum and went for a crucifix pin for a 2.9 count. Then Hero was able to pull a Thatcher on the man himself when Thatcher got overzealous and charged for a European uppercut, only to be turned into a backslide pin and win for Chris Hero! Just great stuff from these two again, they really don’t have bad matches with each other. Thatcher was so convinced he didn’t get pinned he even locked in the Fujiwara again right when the bell rang. Curious to see if Hero sells the arm throughout the night.
This is an interesting matchup. You have deathmatch specialist Masada going up one of the rising behemoths of the indies Kongo Kong. This was…different. Not great, not bad but a very decent match. Masada oddly enough controlled a good portion of the match by attacking Kong with a variety of submissions after three suicide dives to Kong messed up KK’s shoulder. Never thought I’d be seeing a psychologically sound match from Masada in 2015 but here we are. Eventually Kong had enough of Masada’s dollar store #Grapplefuck act and just beat the shit out of him until he fire thunder drivered him to his doom. Kongo Kong looks to destroy more people on this evening which always makes me happy. Masada honestly put out a better performance than I ever thought he would give here so kudos to him.
We’re onto the semis! Both the IWA homegrowns are going head to head, and the crowd is split as hell because of it. These two have wrestled each other a ton in the past and have been around for what seems like ages. I loved the way this one escalated so quickly from a friendly grappling session between two guys who’ve known each other for years into complete chaotic striking hell with absolutely zero mutual respect. It was something to behold as Hero was absolutely set off by the fact Hy-Zaya went for Hero’s already banged up arm courtesy of Tim Thatcher. From there, these guys simply beat the shit out of each other. I wish there was a more eloquent way to put it, but there isn’t. Hy-Zaya even spit at Hero at one point pissing Hero off so much he missed an elbow and Hy-Zaya speared him into the dirt. Loved how every time Hero used his bad elbow for strikes, he sold brilliantly. Crowd atmosphere rocked for this, clearly the IWA faithful loves both of these guys for their long service and it was awesome to see Hy-Zaya get a legit shot at winning this with the crowd behind him. Even though he’s been around this long, I never really watched a ton of old IWA and am now seeing that he’s pretty good. A great striker that went toe to toe with Hero until he just could not match Hero’s intensity any longer. After a missed Swanton from Hy-Zaya, Hero took advantage and spiked him with a piledriver to go on to the TPI 15 finals! Chris Hero really is one of those guys you can take for granted sometimes because you’re just so used to him having good matches with basically any guy and this match just further proves he can elevate anyone with his amazing intensity and psychology. Tons of mutual respect actually did happen after this was done, two warriors who went to battle together for years can’t help but do so.
I wasn’t incredibly impressed with the Iron Demon in round 1, but I think a lot of that had to do with him and Sugar D just having zero chemistry whatsoever so I’m willing to give him another shot to redeem himself. Cage looked awesome in round 1, I have a good feeling about this one. I guess my gut tends to be right in these cases because this was nothing short of an amazing match. My word, the incredibly psychology and buildup in this one was perfect. You had IWA’s boy Mercer working from underneath against the cocky little shit outsider Matt Cage, who set the tone from the very beginning with three huge outside dives to completely take Mercer out of his comfort zone. Cage proceeded to absolutely dismantle Mercer’s leg, and I mean just work it over until there was practically no knee left. When Mercer would try to get back into it, Cage always seemed to have these clevr ways to take him right bac out, like kicking Mercer’s knee out with one leg, and then using the other leg to knee Mercer in the face while he lost his balance and fell to the ground. Everything Cage does is just so smooth. He’s an impeccable performer with a hell of a personality as well and was bringing the absolute banter to not only Mercer during this with quips like “Do you really want this THAT bad?” while destroying him, but also even giving it to the angry old women in the front row. Everything about this atmosphere was god damned brilliant. Mercer’s selling of the leg was off the charts and some of the best work I’ve seen all year. He would fall down when being irish whipped, wasn’t able to even properly suplex Cage correctly. That’s just utter brilliance to me. He completely made up for the first round match here with his fighting spirit and babyface fire in his spirited comeback. So many near falls at the end and an absolute great false finish was Mercer hitting Moonsault and Battery, but since he landed on the bad knee, he couldn’t go pin Cage right away and it was a kick out at 2! And then, in one of the most awesome finishes I’ve seen, Matt Cage was throwing up Mercer off his shoulder’s for the Money Clip only for Mercer to pull out this insane crucifix bomb counter out of freaking nowhere to get the three count and rightfully cement his spot in the finals. Wow. Go out of your way to watch this match if you see nothing else from this tournament, an absolute gem of a contest that probably will not get the props it deserves when it’s all said and done. Wrestling done right.
Oh god. This is going to be a test to see how quickly Bentley can get Kong’s blood boiling to the point where he wants to skewer Reed and have him for dinner. Bentley made a huge mistake at the start by trading chops and blows with the monster. Let alone he already had a bump the size of a golf ball on his forehead from the Russ Jones match. This led to Bentley getting steamrolled for a bit, but he didn’t let up. He stuck to stiffing Kong and it eventually payed off after a palm strike to Kong on the top rope led to an absolute devastating Tower of London by Bentley that looked even more destructive due to Kong’s sheer size crashing into the mat. Reed of course threw some quality banter out at the people in attendance, asking them if he belonged in the Ted Petty now. Bentley tried throwing everything in his arsenal here, including hitting a Regalplex somehow on the massive beast. But Kong completely no sold it and dropped Bentley with the Fire Thunder driver, and you would think that was it but Bentley kicked out strong at ONE. Whoa, this just got even more interesting. Reed eventually then hit his finish, the Reed Awakening elbow and guess what? Kongo Kong as to say I’ll follow that, kicks out as one as well. I don’t mind the 1 count stuff here, this is a high stakes semifinal match that’s also being contested for the title, these dudes are giving all they have and more to come out on top. As Bentley went for a Pepsi Plunge, Kong countered, hit a superplex and then a crushing top rope splash to become new IWA:MS champ and send himself to the finals against Mercer and Hero! A really fun back and forth title match that saw neither guy wanting to quit and a ton of high impact moves from both. Kong looks to defend his title and win this whole thing now.
My boys the Cutter brothers show up to raise some hell once again. Not too sure about Bomb Shleter (Schwartz and Zodiak) but all I know is that Schwartz looks like a post apocalyptic mage and Zodiak looks like a guy who religiously watches Mankind and Ron Zombie matches. This being a Hooligans match and falls count anywhere, of course most of the brawling took place on the outside. Many chairs’ lives were not spared on this day. Many chairs were also thrown on top of Bomb Shelter. Testicles were grabbed. No one was safe. I know some people will probably hate this type of match, and I was definitely disappointed in the lack of the good wrestling the Hooligans can add to these types of matches as well. But this was still a fun change of pace from the more serious rest of the show and just four guys fighting. The Hooligans even did Public Enemy’s move the Drive By in tribute of Ted Petty (Rocco Rock) himself, how awesome. Unfortunately, Hooligans came up short when Schwartz low blowed a Cutter and the other received a Black Hole Slam by Zodiak for the Bomb Shelter victory. Jesus Zodiak, how many dudes are you doing a tribute act to at once here? Regardless, a short destroy everything and leave nothing unscathed brawl that was a taste of something different before the finals. Hooligans absolutely destroyed these nerds after the match, rightfully so.
Yep, so here’s the deal with TPI finals if you aren’t aware. It’s three way dance rules, in that one fall does not end the match, it just eliminates one person and makes it a one on one affair. Anyway, what an interesting band of characters in this year’s final. The newly crowned IWA champ and destructive Kongo Kong meets Mr. TPI Chris Hero and the darkhorse of this tournament who battled through his knee in the previous bout Shane Mercer. Lots of things to consider in this; Hero’s arm that’s been worked over, Mercer’s knee that was assaulted by Cage, and Kong’s general dominance and not taking much damage at all throughout. Hero coming out to Superman by 3 Doors Down was a great throwback to some of the TPIs of old and put a smile on my face. Another thing I keep forgetting to mention that Hero is the ONLY one in the entire TPI15 field that’s actually even been in a TPI, everyone else is a first timer here! Advantage Hero? He comes out firing to start off with elbows and kicks sending Mercer and Kong flying to the point that they gang up on Hero just to put out his fire. And even then Chris couldn’t be stopped for a short period of time, angry Hero is the best. He even threw a merch table at the big man. Back in the ring, Hero brought in Mercer while Kong was recovering from that table shot and they had a very good back and forth. Mercer almost had Hero with a press slam but his knee didn’t allow him to support Hero’s weight, and Hero crushed him with a piledriver but a huge near fall sent the crowd into a frenzy. Kong got back into the fray and the 2 on 1 against Hero really came into play again. Hero at one point had them both in the corner and screamed at Mercer “You’re new IWA!? Well I’m OLD IWA!” and proceeded to elbow both of them to hell. The first fall’s closing stretch was cool on paper, but executed a bit sloppy when Mercer belly to bellied Hero into Kong, who tried to catch him into a powerbomb position, and threw him into Mercer for a meh looking backdrop suplex. Kong delivered fire thunder to Hero, and they piled on him to get him out of there. I don’t mind Hero being eliminated first, at all. This made him look like the man to beat and completely dangerous to the point it had to become a handicap match to beat him. Now Mercer gets a chance to shine too.
This second fall between Mercer and Kong is funny. I loved it and I hated it. I hated that Mercer didn’t nearly sell the leg enough like he did in the Cage match. I mean, the guy was legit doing suplexes and powerbombs to Kong, and it almost cheapens the work they did in that previous match to make Mercer overcome the odds and whatnot. That definitely subtracts some points for me. There was a little bit of choppiness here and there, like Mercer trying to hit Moonsault and Battery but the logistics with Kong’s size just made it look like he gave him a second rope fallaway slam. Which is fine/understandable and doesn’t really hurt the match all that much, Kong’s a big guy and he won’t move that easily in the air. Hero being eliminated I think sucked the air out of the crowd a bit too which is unfortunate. But they covered up those flaws somewhat with some great back and forth wrestling and a TON of near falls that I totally fell for. Mercer looked like a guy who could stay in there with anyone and wouldn’t quit even after TWO splashes and a Fire Thunder/Samoan Driver. The finish was damn awesome though. Kong went for a moonsault, and the Iron Demon went to powerbomb him off the second rope, but Kongo Kong somehow pulled out that insane hurricanrana he does for a man his size. Kong then hit a rising Mercer with an equally asinine moonsault press and Kongo Kong his still your IWA champ and your first Ted Petty winner in 7 years! A really fun final that definitely had its psychological flaws like Mercer’s knee not being sold right and the atmosphere maybe not being as intense in the mid part of the match once Hero was gone. But it picked up near the close and the crowd was really into Mercer kicking out of Kong’s stuff and fighting to the bitter end.
Just a damn fine tournament guys. You’re crazy if you don’t go pick this one up. MVP of the tournament was far and away Chris Hero, to no one’s surprise. He delivered in all three matches he was involved in, made the other guy better and had the crowd completely into everything. A runner up would probably be Matt Cage, who’s athletic ability jumps off the page and paired with his natural arrogance is money, just like he claims he is. Match of the tournament had to come from him and Shane Mercer. But I also come away so impressed with Reed Bentley’s personality. He’s like a big boy version of old school IWA CM Punk in the way he carries himself and it fits him so well. There’s really not one thing that was GOD AWFUL or anything on this show except maybe Sugar D/Mercer, but one match out of all of these is pretty darn good. Hell of a job by Ian Rotten and IWA:MS for being able to make Ted Petty happen again in this truly year of the tournament. Gets eyes on so many good young wrestlers/undiscovered wrestlers/overlooked vets and it’s nothing but good for the business. A must buy.