The Times They Are a-Changin’

It feels like an awful lot has happened since I last wrote here – much of it exciting, some of it intriguing, and a few bits that are upsetting – but all of them pale into insignificance compared to the heart-wrenching news that emerged on Wednesday 19th June of the death of Adrian “Lionheart” McCallum. I met Adrian a handful of times but knew him more by reputation, as one of the leading lights of Scottish wrestling’s golden age in the past few years. He had earned tremendous respect for the way he fought back from a broken neck a few years ago and defied doctors’ expectations to return to the ring, and I noticed on several occasions how well he carried himself in public – whether in person or online he was always a great ambassador for the British scene. Three days prior to Adrian’s death I had asked my Defiant Wrestling co-commentator James R. Kennedy how his evening had gone at the ICW show where he was working, and the first thing James said was that Lionheart stole the show in the main event, as he so often did. It is still very hard for me to get my head around the fact that it turned out to be his last match – and if I feel that way then I can’t begin to imagine how those close to him must still be feeling. For whatever it’s worth, I continue to send them my condolences and love, as so many others have done from all over the world.

In much happier news, it’s been awesome during the past few weeks to see so many friends and colleagues continue to gain levels of recognition that they have long deserved. I thought Bea Priestley had a pretty much perfect introduction to AEW fans at Fight For The Fallen on Saturday, while Kip Sabian proved again that he is destined to be a global superstar and Jimmy Havoc was at the heart of one of the most entertaining six-man tags I’ve seen in years. Meanwhile in Japan, Will Ospreay and Zack Sabre Jr have been tearing it up in the G1 Climax tournament, Chris Ridgeway is making waves in Pro Wrestling NOAH, and Chris Brookes is getting beaten up by an elephant in DDT. Back home in the UK, a deep roster of talent continues to get a platform to shine every week on NXT UK and a new generation of exciting talent is filling up the spots they vacated on the independent scene. The good news keeps coming too: one of the most recent to announce a major career development is Gabriel Kidd, who will be going to train at New Japan’s dojo in Los Angeles - it’s hard to imagine any young British star who would be a better fit for that promotion than Kidd, so this could be the start of something very special for him. It’s become a truism to say this, but 2019 really, really is an incredible moment in the history of British wrestling.

That being said, there has been a much more unwelcome kind of change for Jack Sexsmith this month, who has been forced to retire from in-ring action due to injury. I’ve been very fortunate to get to know Jack well over the past year - thanks mainly to some long drives to Newcastle and back - and I’ve come to realise what an excellent mind he has for the wrestling business. He has an intuitive understanding of how to develop a compelling character and how to build a story that hooks people in - all of which gives me great confidence that, despite his understandable sadness about his in-ring career being cut short, he has a great future in this industry if he chooses to stick around. Luckily for all of us, it seems that he plans to do just that: I’ve seen that TNT Extreme Wrestling in Liverpool have already hired him as a commentator, and I’m sure there will be plenty more opportunities to come too. A true trailblazer who has positively impacted countless people, and a great lad too (despite being an Arsenal fan) - he’s one of a kind. Don’t go anywhere, mate!

It’s also been a time of change for one of my main employers: Defiant Wrestling is going on hiatus after a thrilling end to its current season on 29th June. Built To Destroy (see the replay here) lived up to the hype as fans got to see the climax of David Starr’s two-year quest for championship glory in an awesome main event against Rampage, which headlined a brilliant top-to-bottom card that gave me goosebumps on more than one occasion and was extremely newsworthy, featuring no fewer than four title changes. Speaking of Rampage, one week later he was part of the Wrestle Gate Pro Emerald Grand Prix where his final match against Shuji Ishikawa was absolutely jaw-dropping, and without doubt one of the most physically intense matches I’ve ever called. In fact, it was so good that Nathan Cruz - a man who has seen plenty of world class professional wrestling in his time - has called it the greatest match he’s ever witnessed. You absolutely must watch this show on demand when it is released shortly, as the entire tournament was unforgettable and has left us with an intriguing Wrestle Gate Pro heavyweight title match at Gate of Honour on October 5th - get tickets for that here!

By the way, in the afternoon before the Emerald Grand Prix, Frontline Wrestling produced a very strong NEXGEN 4 show (again, available soon on demand) which saw - among many other things - an end to the undefeated streak of Pretty Deadly. Sam Stoker and Lewis Howley have developed very quickly into a must-see tag team on the British scene. The entrance, the attire, the swagger, the in-ring tactics - everything about them is brilliantly obnoxious. At the risk of further building their out-of-control egos, these two look destined for big things in the very near future despite their defeat to Jay Joshua and Nico Angelo in Nottingham.

Speaking of exciting but obnoxious tag teams, I got to commentate on one of Europe’s most talked-about tandems last week when Jay Skillet and Francis Kaspin - collectively JayFK - made their GWF debuts at Summer Smash 4 (watch it here) with a shot at the tag team titles, and more than lived up to the hype. Another debutant also got a championship opportunity as Corey McRae challenged Senza Volto for the Berlin title, while John “Bad Bones” Klinger celebrated his return to action after being hospitalised with an infection by defending the world title against Lucky Kid. I’m very much looking forward to returning to Berlin for their annual 30-man rumble at Battlefield in September - get your tickets now!

Overall then, lots of change right now in the UK scene and beyond, and with it lots of opportunity for the most talented to shine. But enough writing - like everyone else, I’ve got hours and hours of wrestling content to go and watch from all over the world...