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Just Business: NORTH Wrestling NCL 1: Brace Yourself (A Review of an Aptly Entitled Indy Debut)
By Samuel 'Plan
Jan 6, 2017 - 6:21:47 PM

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Just Business: NORTH Wrestling NCL 1: Brace Yourself (A Review of an Aptly Entitled Indy Debut)

Brace Yourself is the sub-title for the debut show of new Newcastle-Upon-Tyne based British Indy fed, NORTH Wrestling, and an apt title it is. For you should brace yourself when sitting down to watch NCL 1, because it’s one of the most well-rounded, fully formed products I’ve seen from a newly starting promotion, complete with a singular visual identity and impressive authorial confidence. NORTH’s maximisation of resource and talent leads to a truly unique production and a quintessentially British watch. It’s certainly a superior watch to ITV’s recent World of Sport revival attempt, and worthier of your time.

Clocking in comfortably under the two hour mark means it won’t take up much of your time either, if you find yourself a busy individual. NCL 1 is a succinct watch that refuses to outstay its welcome. Its humility, in that regard, is refreshing. 6 bouts are featured on the card, and while I have no knowledge of the running time of each, there felt to be no laborious 30 minute indulgences, and each is sure to contribute something fresh and different to the event. Are you a fan fearful of Indy feds because of the chances of witnessing a slew of spot-addled stereotypical bouts? If so, there’s nothing to fear from NORTH Wrestling. In fact, one talent you’re already likely to be familiar with is feature: the inimitable Extraordinary Gentlemen Jack Gallagher, and he’s on perennial form.

Indeed, the newly minted WWE signee put on perhaps the best match of the card, fittingly defeating recently-minted WOS attendee El Ligero in what proves to be a beautifully punctuated piece of work, wonderfully imaginative and in possession of a tremendous finish. Gallagher is, I am sure, an acquired taste and, being as it was a prototypically escapology-focussed effort, if your taste isn’t favourable to him there’s nothing in his match with Ligero you’ll enjoy. I, however, am a big fan, and could comfortably imagine watching the exact same match on an episode of 205 Live – though it would perhaps have a little less charm were that to happen.

I say that not to court favour with the anti-WWE crowd. Regular readers of mine will know I am unapologetically, at time proudly a WWE Loyalist. I do say it, however, because NCL 1 possessed a lot of charm, as does the promotion in general. If you’ve a weak moral constitution then the enthused profanity may turn you off. If, however, you have a skin thick enough to dismiss such adult leanings, you’ll find a promotion with an instantly recognisable identity. A combination of dark lighting, handheld camerawork and the absence of commentary track makes the show feel incredibly distinct, and a far-cry from the sometimes homogenous world of low production values and gritty accessibility of independent professional wrestling. Compared to the inaugural show of Progress Wrestling, for instance, NCL 1 is light-years ahead. This is a genuinely alternative product, rather than one reaching to be something beyond the reach of the promotion’s resources. The production philosophy is one other promotions in comparative positions would do well to note, I feel.

Whether the lack of commentary was a conscious stylistic choice or a result of inescapable circumstance, the result is the same: a spotlight lent to the creativity of the performers, where matches are allowed to be what they were designed to be, given room to breathe and not damaged by an ineffectual commentary track that serves only to confuse the bout’s design. It was only halfway into the second match before I realised there was no commentary, and once I became conscious of it I came to view it solely as a positive. Similarly, the use of handheld camerawork created a very specific visual identity unique to NORTH Wrestling. While at times it could become hard to track the action, generally speaking it was a major positive, emphasising the bruising, ring rattling nature of the competitors’ work, and creating, in tandem with the cramped venue and dark lightning, a claustrophobic intimacy; for all intents and purposes, anyone viewing at home could by rights consider themselves a live attendee. I can’t remember ever seeing that in pro wrestling before.

Where that heady atmosphere paid dividends was in the jaw-juddering clash between the “Bruiserweight” Pete Dunne and Martin Kirby. Theirs was a mat based meat grinder; an abattoir match if ever there was one. Dunne wrestles with brutal simplicity, and with the ill-tempered, viciously un-endearing swagger of some of the most experienced villains in the industry, relishing the punishment he dishes out, at times feeling legitimately intimidating. It’s a marvellous performance that is only served by the aforementioned effects of the production style – handheld camerawork; dark lighting; cramped venue. Want to know what Hammer Horror in a wrestling ring looks like? Then look no further.

Such stylistic choices do come with a price. I would be lying if I said I was able to fully appreciate the main event – wrestled between Newcastle resident HT Drake and Liam Thomson – because stretches of the action that occur beyond the confines of the ropes were drenched in the darkness of the show’s dungeon-esque setting. This felt a little unfortunate, as the impression was given that Drake and Thomson were engaging in a brawl inspired by the rabidity of the Attitude Era’s product of the late 1990s and early 2000s – an important observation, considering the stylistic spirits exhibited by earlier bouts.

The second match of the night, for example, wrestled between Dom Black and Son of Ulaid Bas Ban, felt like a page from the book of the WWF New Generation of the mid 1990s, and I mean that as a compliment. Maybe it was because the Sons of Ulaid together, subjected to chants of “You’re just a sh*t Wyatt Family!” from the live audience, reminded me of a mortified version of the Godwinns; or maybe it was the characterful style of wrestling with which the match was performed; but regardless, its stiffer, rougher aesthetic compared to the night’s opener, and its storyline driven conclusion, provided something contributory but different to NCL 1’s first ever match-up.

That first composition saw Damien Dunne, nicknamed a “Southern pansy” by the same cut-throat live audience, go up against naturally likable, plucky babyface Liam Slater. And if Black and Ban compiled a piece of work that would feel at home in the mid-1990s, Slater and Dunne compiled a piece of work that would feel at home in the late 1980s. Do not mistake me; I am not calling their work dated, though I think it would be suitable to name it vintage. There was plentiful crowd interaction – though I can’t repeat most of it here – and plenty of wit and whimsy that together helped give the impression the villain, Dunne, was being treated in the humbling and ignominious fashion the best villains of the Golden Age were once treated with many moons ago. The old school elements of the action, like a little good old fashioned criss-crossing on the ropes for example, and the simple but well told story only further substantiated the aforementioned vintage impression.

These differences in tone are important to account for, as cumulatively they created a show that watched as consistently varied, ensuring boredom was never under threat. Even the tag team match, between Tyler Bates and Chris Brookes (whose team name, again, I cannot repeat here) and The New Nation, seemed inspired by the vibrant tag wrestling of years past currently trying to make a comeback in mainstream products. Not every attempted idea is a success, and of all the matches on the card this felt closest to the pervading Indy stereotype less worldly fans may possess, but it remains an entertaining match, with the New Nation impressing in particular; I dare say they reminded me, in part, of the original Hart Foundation.

This review isn’t the timeliest, I grant, with NCL 1 having taken place many months ago, but even now it remains worthy of being watched. NORTH Wrestling are currently building to a third event in Newcastle, set to take place February 11th, so it’s still not too late to get up to date with events; some of which are driven by storylines ably set in motion by logical, simple writing during their inaugural show.

And that show really is a fun watch. I may come off as being a little heavy on the praise, but I must stress how impressed I was by NORTH Wrestling’s first effort. Everything, from the time taken to produce a strong individual identity visually and otherwise, to the emphasis on their home region and use of that to inform elements of their roster and show, right through to the minor details – the design of their website, their friendly social media presence, even the subtitles on the show itself – NORTH Wrestling gives a clear, strong and undeniable impression of a promotion wanting to make a mark. If they continue the form they show so brilliantly through their first event, I fail to see what’s stopping them. This is a promotion that loves the industry; that loves what they do and want to do it well. You get the strong impression that this is the realisation of a dream, and that only serves to make it all the more endearing.

Unpretentious but confident, NCL 1: Brace Yourself is one of the best Indy shows I’ve ever sat down to watch. I can’t wait to check out more, and I would encourage you to check out their first. And if you’re local to Newcastle, don’t miss out on the opportunity to catch their next event; simply seek them out online or on social media for all the details. It’ll be worth your time. I promise.

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