Promotions We Loved: 2011

Love is back again. This time we talk about some of our favorite promotions from last year, with all our friends: Brandon Stroud from With Leather, Thomas Holzerman from The Wrestling Blog, Mary from Honour Magazine, Steven from ROH World, and Charles from Puroresu SpiritEnjoy!

Love Series: Matches We loved Part I, Matches We Loved Part II, Wrestlers We Loved

Photos Courtesy:  Wayne Palmer (2)

Absolutely Intense Wrestling

Amanda: This honor absolutely has to go to AIW. I’ve only been to a handful of shows so far, but AIW has something that just not every company has. I don’t know what it is. It’s not just that they put on spectacular matches, I’ve seen spectacular matches lots of places (like DGUSA, for example!) so I know that isn’t all. It has to be something about the atmosphere, the people. The crowd at AIW is the epitome of a raucous wrestling crowd, which is absolutely the way it should be. If people aren’t chanting something loud and probably offensive, something is wrong. It’s just… fun. It’s a good time. It’s a great big loud obnoxious wrestling party, and that’s the best thing.

All Japan Pro Wrestling

Charles: It was definitely a strong year for All Japan, tons of good matches, and a break out year for new generation wrestlers. Two of my favorite matches of the year came from All Japan and there could easily be more I could add. Sadly, the promotion was not at the end of controversy in late May, but they bounced back and tried to move forward. If you have not paid attention to what has been going on in the past couple years I definitely recommend that you go out of your way and check out the aforementioned matches and give them a shot.

Anarchy Championship Wrestling

Brandon: Austin’s Anarchy Championship Wrestling saved wrestling for me.

Well, not directly, but hear me out … four years ago I was living in Cleveland, which had eight competing pro wrestling organizations in town (nine if you counted WWE, ten if you counted TNA, which I don’t).  From there I moved to Washington, D.C. and was in driving distance of Philadelphia, where wrestling on the independent circuit more or less lives.  My girlfriend’s employers suddenly relocated her to Austin, Texas, and my first thought was, “Oh God, it’s gonna be nothing but Bubba Dumplins and I’m 25 years removed from World Class”.

I found ACW here, and with it I found some of the best wrestling happening in the country.  It dares to treat women like human beings, giving gender-nonspecific spotlight roles to talented (and beautiful) performers like Rachel Summerlyn, Portia Perez, Jessica James and Athena.  It dares to treat lighter wrestlers like threats, giving an air of legitimacy to unbelievably talented wrestlers like Davey Vega, Matt Palmer and ACH.  It also provides a little something for everyone, from actually funny comedy (Pierre Abernathy, I’m looking in your direction) and ultraviolence.  I’m not a huge fan of the last one, but SOMEBODY is, and wrestling shouldn’t just be for me, it should be for that somebody, too.

I love ACW, whether it can save wrestling or not.

Leslie: 2011 was undoubtedly the Year of Anarchy. If you weren’t following ACW, you weren’t following the most interesting, creative, and relevant wrestling in the world. The progressive spirit of Austin manifests itself in everything from the entrance themes to the storylines to the match stipulations to the design of the title. They brought that spirit in well over a dozen shows throughout the year, and not one felt small. You never knew who was going to win a title or have their break-out match or put on a MOTYC, or fight or cry or bleed their heart out for Pro Wrestling. In 2011 ACW gave us ACH redefining the term “5 Star Match” against Matthew Palmer and Chris Hero. They gave us the best women’s tournament show since the days of ChickFight. They even gave us a second chance at Prom.

ACW had tons of great wrestling, but then it also seemed a like it was more than just a great wrestling show. It’s an event that holds its own running side by side with Lykke Li or James Marsters or anyone in-between. Every month when ACW came around you just knew you had to be there, to see it, to feel it, to understand; because if you ever miss an Anarchy show you are missing something special.

Big Japan Pro Wrestling

Charles: Big Japan Pro Wrestling is also a promotion worth mentioning, I know what you are going to say “I don’t care for deathmatch wrestling”. Well truth be told, there is much more to BJW than Deathmatches. With Daisuke Sekimoto building up a lot of the new generation talent, there seems to be a split in a way of classical style wrestling and death matches. Lots of new talent are finding a home in BJW and the future is looking pretty bright for them.

CHIKARA

Chris: CHIKARA has been consistently growing in popularity since its inception and in 2011, they finally crowned their first singles champion after a year-long tournament. What I enjoy about CHIKARA is that, despite the increasing audience, they continue to remember to have fun. They also have no issue treating wrestlers of either gender as equals, as evidenced with the work of Sara Del Rey and Manami Toyota in the company. Perhaps most importantly, CHIKARA held the Joshimania post-season event, which brought a number of Japanese female wrestlers State-side, many for the first time, and exposed them to a whole new audience.

Thomas: In 2010, CHIKARA was inwardly focused and intensive on telling a story with its own roster members surrounding one central angle and several satellite tales. The results were sublime. In 2011, rather than go back to the well and do it again, they went out and recruited the best guest stars, put on the best wrestling exhibitions and rained fanservice from the rafters like it was Pacman Jones throwing dollar bills at the strip club. It too was sublime.

There were some that didn’t get what CHIKARA tried to do this year, who preferred the introverted nature of the ninth season. I loved it too, but then again, when a promotion is as artistically forward as CHIKARA, I think I might have been a tad disappointed if they tried to do it again in consecutive years. They took it as a challenge to be the best promotion in the country again but do it in a wholly different manner. While the ninth season was focused around an invading faction, the tenth was about crowning a Champion, wowing the crowds and most importantly, honoring a friend. They paid the same attention to detail in that regard as they did prior.

Many wrestling companies struggle to do one thing right. CHIKARA does so many things right that I almost feel like it’s unfair to compare them to other companies. Still, the amount of happiness they bring to me as a wrestling fan is immeasurable, and in 2011, they kept me awash in a wave of fan euphoria that no other company can come close to doing.

Dragon Gate

Martin: The year of the unit war… and it was done so right. The early part of 2011 was spent establishing the Blood Warriors, the evil union of CIMA’s Warriors group and a faction of wrestlers led by Naruki Doi. Three other groups – Masato Yoshino’s WORLD-1, Shingo Takagi and YAMATO’s Kamikaze, and the Veteran Army led by Masaaki Mochizuki – struggled to contain this new force, and it was eventually decided that each group would disband to form a new super group, Junction Three. This group would be led by Open the Dream Gate Champion Mochizuki, and would be the power of good to counteract the Blood Warriors’ evil. But there would be one further betrayal, as on the night of Junction Three’s formation, BxB Hulk would turn on Shingo, and join Blood Warriors. A further shock would come that night, as Akira Tozawa returned from his year long stay in the United States to also join Blood Warriors. The war was on.

As both units were so stacked with talent, there were great matches up and down the card on each major show. Dragon Gate’s weekly TV show, Infinity, was the most consistent and great hour of wrestling television in the world in 2011. Whilst on the surface the war seemed never-ending, there was a story told, as over the course of the year, all four of the promotion’s titles migrated over from Junction Three to the Blood Warriors, culminating at Final Gate on Christmas Day, as CIMA finally completed the set by defeating Mochizuki for the company’s major title, the Open the Dream Gate Championship. All this with tours throughout the year in both the United States and the United Kingdom made this the biggest year in the company’s history, and the start of 2012 has already carried it on.

Ice Ribbon

Pumi: Ice Ribbon is one of my favorites from last year. I don’t mean they just had the best matches or their production was the best. It is just because the promotion can touch my heart. For some fans, Ice Ribbon is still very new in this sport, but I recommend you all see them. I think the promotion made many girl’s dreams come true. Ice Ribbon made a huge impact on Joshi with young wrestlers, some under 10 years old and also some older wrestlers. This is a place they can all fulfill their dreams. For example, I’m Thai and I’ve wished everyday since I was young to be a wrestler, but I know there is no chance to do because we don’t have any promotions here. So, I understand the feeling that when you have of dream and you need some place to fulfill it. They showed us clearly how good wrestling is and how much it means to life. I love Ice Ribbon!

New Japan Pro Wrestling

Martin: 2011 was the Hiroshi Tanahashi show. Not since Místico in 2006 had one man completely dominated a year in professional wrestling. Tanahashi carried New Japan on his back with a year long IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign that saw him make an incredible ten defences of the title in 2011, against such names as Yuji Nagata, Shinsuke Nakamura, Hirooki Goto and Tetsuya Naito, amongst others. Tanahashi came through all his defences with flying colours, and was beloved by the fanbase, everything the face of the company should be.

That’s not to say, however, that 2011 was only about Tanahashi. 2011 proved a great year for the company in other areas, such as the Best of the Super Juniors, where outsider Kota Ibushi won the tournament in a legendary match with Ryusuke Taguchi, and proceeded to win the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title from Prince Devitt, only to have to surrender the title three months later due to injury. There was also the biggest and most spectacular G1 Climax in history, featuring 20 wrestlers and lasting two weeks, which culminated in a fantastic final at Sumo Hall, where Shinsuke Nakamura defeated the plucky Tetsuya Naito, who had a major breakthrough year. Yuji Nagata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima proved that there was still new life in old dogs, as they all had great years. Prince Devitt continued to prove himself as one of the best junior heavyweight wrestlers in the world. And there was even room for Montel Vontavious Porter, who was so happy to be able to have fun wrestling again in his dream promotion. Add that to the dominant year of Bad Intentions, and you had the best major promotion of 2011.

Pumi: The “King of Sports” still one of the best promotions in the business with so much history and so many top wrestlers! No words can explain how awesome NJPW was last year.

Pro Wrestling Guerrilla

Martin: The most consistent professional wrestling organisation of 2011. Whilst they only run from one building – American Legion Post #308 in Reseda, CA (with the exception of their Kurt Russellreunion shows once a year in Los Angeles) – everything that happens inside that building turns to pure gold. Starting from the local talent, including the RockNES Monsters, the Fightin’ Taylor Boys, Joey Ryan, Scorpio Sky, Willie Mack, Peter Avalon and Candice LeRae, to major independent talent such as Kevin Steen, El Generico, Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, Roderick Strong, The Young Bucks, Akira Tozawa, Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli, you will never see a bad match on a PWG show, and it’ll always be rowdy. And if you can’t make it to Reseda, the DVDs offer the best commentary in wrestling, with Excalibur and his pals offering their silky smooth punditry… and mostly random things about other stuff – baseball if you’re Joey Ryan.

2011 was the year of Steen in PWG. Whilst mostly exiled from Ring of Honor, “Mr. Wrestling” made his home in Reseda, and tore through the competition, mostly for the early part with Akira Tozawa by his side. So much show that on the nine shows he appeared on, Steen wrestled an incredible 16 matches, including winning the PWG World Title from Claudio Castagnoli, before losing it in an insane and brutal Ladder Match to his eternal rival El Generico. The year also included the best tournament of 2011, DDT4, where the team of Steen and Tozawa battled past the Briscoe Brothers and the Kings of Wrestling, before falling in one of the best wrestling matches of 2011 to the Young Bucks. Steen Wolf in October was another of the best shows of the year, as other than the aforementioned Ladder Match, the Bucks were taken to the limit by Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly. Oh, and a certain Mr. Super Dragon returned after three years of retirement, and proceeded to tear shit up like the good old days. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Go to PWG’s website and get all the good stuff there. It’s well worth it.

Pro Wrestling WAVE

Leslie: When NEO closed at the end of 2010, there was a question of which surviving or new promotion would step into their role of leading Joshi promotion. The answer? Well, all of them really. 2011 was a great year for Joshi on the whole, but Gami’s Pro Wrestling WAVE really stood out for me. The company has traditionally been (too) heavy on comedy, but that took a backseat for much of last year (save the amazing Sakura Hirota, who is amazing at everything). The rise of Black Wave (massive villainous faction lead by Yumi Ohka and a reborn Misaki Ohata), a greater focus on the Triple Tails (Kana, Mio and formerly Io), dashes of Ayako Hamada, and Toshie Uematsu’s retirement run have brought a lot of new school Joshi greatness to the world. Make sure to check out the insane Kana vs Ayumi Kurihara match from last October for a taste of the new-look WAVE.

Aoikougei: The number of customers has increased steadily and WAVE is now the most interesting Joshi company.

Ring of Honor

Steven: I know it might sound obvious from somebody who runs a Ring of Honor website but the promotion I loved in 2011 is ROH. When I found ROH a few years ago, I was running out of patience with wrestling (or should I say sports entertainment…) and was ready to give up. Thankfully I persevered and ROH has served me well ever since. Even though they lost several big names in 2011, ROH continued to put on some fantastic wrestling shows that made me proud to be a wrestling fan – that is why I love Ring of Honor.

SHIMMER

Chris: This is essentially a no brainer answer for me. The première all female wrestling company in the Western hemisphere, SHIMMER gets better and better every year. With a multitude of debuts in 2011, a plethora of great matches, and an incredible roster, SHIMMER put on some of the most entertaining shows of the year. Madison Eagles, Cheerleader Melissa, Serena Deeb, Kana, LuFisto, Sara Del Rey, the Canadian Ninjas, the list goes on of the top quality talent on display in this promotion in 2011. Really, there isn’t much more I need to say about it.

Mary:  I think that’s a given.  A company that brings in talent world-wide and is always exposing fans to lesser known talent.  The focus remains on in-ring storytelling, though there are occasionally promos to help convey the intended out-of-the-ring story.  The company has probably the best commentary of an all women’s fed around, because of the fact that Perez and Prazak treat the competitors like just that, competitors.  Not women, not sexual objects, not girly wrestlers.  They help enhance the in-ring talent and not take away from it.  SHIMMER has helped make a lot of their talents’ careers and I can only hope they will continue to do so in the coming years.  That, and one day land a lucrative TV deal!

Pumi: This is the place for top women wrestler from all around the world. America, Canada, Europe, Asia! SHIMMER made many of my wishes come true such as Kana and Ray in America. I love women’s wrestling and want to make fans in America know that good wrestling is so close to you, you don’t have to settle for less. I can see a bright future for SHIMMER and I’ll support them as always!

SMASH

Sonny: Unfortunately, SMASH closed its door a few weeks ago. But for last year, SMASH put on very reputable shows and, while holding its own in Japan with their men’s matches, they truly shined by showcasing the women. Kana’s battles with Serena Deeb were first-rate, and Tomoka Nakagawa came into her own. SMASH has been an awesome promotion, bringing fun and excitement to the masses.

Charles: SMASH held a few solid shows over the year and definitely earned themselves a strong spot in the market. Even with the news that SMASH was closing in 2012, there was no need to worry as it seems it will not be the end of what they built with Wrestling New Classic opening soon.

Aoikougei: Perfect shows! All talent were respected. New wrestlers were introduced with great promo videos. Matches were convincing to the last move. The atmosphere of the hall was great.

Leslie: No promotion kept me as engaged between shows as SMASH did. It’s over-the-top storylines (see: Triple Tails threatening to castrate TAJIRI or Syuri’s complete and utter freak out[1. Syuri loses her shit entirely.]), best-in-wrestling promo videos, and heavy doses of Serena Deeb and other foreign tars made it easy for even non-Japanese speakers to follow along. It was sad to see it all end, especially after spending time with the staff and fans an its ultra fun after parties. However, Wrestling New Classic is taking SMASH’s place and it’s already nearly selling out it’s first show. Arigatou, SMASH!

WSU

Mary: I give WSU a great deal of credit.  In the early years, there were a lot of issues that needed to be addressed, and they’ve continued to fix any problem and move forward, stronger than before.  Whereas SHIMMER is more wrestling based, WSU has a strong presence in the story-line department.  There are factions, there are pairings, there are off and on rivalries, and a lot of passion in the competitors, whom all want to turn the heads of their fans.  A lot of WSU’s roster are up and comers, and I think that’s what makes the fed very interesting.  These women are hungry and are eager to continue to improve their craft and show you what they can bring at every booking.  The company is always evolving, and that’s what keeps my attention most of all.

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