This past weekend saw one of the best Ring of Honor Pure Rules matches take place, yet it wasn’t in a Ring of Honor ring, and it wasn’t on American soil. Rather, the fabulous British promotion Wrestle Carnival played host to an absolute war between ‘The Octopus’ Jonathan Gresham and Britain’s own Chris Ridgeway on the promotion’s Pure event from the Portland Centre, Nottingham, on October 9th.
Promoter Gary Ward has talked to us before about his links with Ring of Honor, and he pulled off a major coup by bringing over not only Gresham but his wife, the former Impact Knockouts Champion and immensely talented Jordynne Grace, to the UK for what proved to be an extraordinary show before a white-hot crowd that was very vocal and completely absorbed by the stunning action in the ring.
Chris Ridgeway, deservedly, has a reputation for being one of the best grapplers in the UK at present. His ‘North West Strong stable could almost be seen as the British equivalent of ‘The Foundation’ or ‘Imperium,’ groups for whom the mat is sacred and pure wrestling is the building block from where all pro wrestling and the honour of such is raised from. Ridgeway is hard-hitting, no-nonsense and technically gifted; a perfect foil for ‘The Octopus’.
Now, I might be still living in the afterglow of the moment, but the absolute war that Gresham and Ridgeway put themselves through is easily in my top 5 matches of the year. It was that good. The Code of Honor was adhered to start; from there Ridgeway proved to be just as good as ‘The Octopus’ when it comes to taking it to the mat and going hold for hold. The swiftness, dexterity and crispness of the pair’s reversals and counters was a sight to behold. Meanwhile, Chris Ridgeway perhaps had the edge on the striking game—not that Jonathan Gresham is a slouch in that area in any way—but the North West Strong man threw some of the sickest kicks I’ve seen all year, near-caving in Gresham’s chest as the slap of boot on flesh echoed like a gunshot around the Portland Centre. Vicious isn’t the word…
The ending came as Ridgeway locked up Gresham, who crawled out to the floor with Ridgeway still on him and refusing to let him go, resulting in a double count as both men zoomed back into the ring just as the 20 count expired. That could have been a slightly deflating moment, except it made complete sense with what followed.
As the fans shouted for 5 more minutes, Gresham got on the mic and revealed he had something even better in mind. Stating how he had been searching America, Europe and the world for the best Pure wrestlers, he finally felt he had found one in Chris Ridgeway—so how would Ridgeway feel about being the first European member of The Foundation???
Ridgeway’s response: “I am the foundation!” Followed by a handshake—Code of Honor upheld.
Wow! None of us expected that; a real big wrestling moment played out in a leisure centre in Nottingham. Ridgeway is absolutely deserving of his place in The Foundation and if this means we could see Ridgeway in a Ring of Honor ring in the near future, then it’s a great opportunity for the North West Strong man and would also be a great addition to ROH’s Pure Division. It also shows that Wrestle Carnival is a promotion to watch—you don’t know what could happen at a show!
Elsewhere, Wrestle Carnival demonstrated their variety ethos very well. Joe Hendry and Jay Joshua showed off their considerable wrestling skills in a solid opener; Mercedez Blaze put on a great little match against Rhio, showing hilarious disdain for the boos of the crowd by mocking them with seal-like claps; and Big Guns Joe beat the odds in a gauntlet match leaning towards comedy after finally beating the muscular adonis that is Shreddy and saw the magnificently charismatic Charles Crowley suffer a “t**t” chat (I didn’t realise how much I needed such a chat at a wrestling show, but clearly I did!)
One match I was really impressed with was the tag team match between the pure beef of Powerhouse Blake and Will Croos and the smaller, more athletic Adam Bolt and Riley Nova. When a crowd is chanting “please don’t die” at you, it’s just a little tell-tale sign that people expect you to be decimated.
It’s to Bolt and Nova’s credit that they took an absolute beating but still put up a hell of a fight—there was one Blake landing in particular where I genuinely had concerns about Nova’s ability to eat without a tube in future! Will Kroos meanwhile makes sure that every last blow counts—you feel it in the audience, never mind in the ring. Blake and Croos took the win in a competitive match, but the team of Bolt and Nova got a big reaction from the crowd as reward for their events.
Jordynne Grace put in the kind of performance that once again showed why she is one of the best wrestlers—male or female—in America currently. However, she faces some extremely stiff competition in Alex Windsor, who completely gave as good as she got and as a result, us fans got far, far more than our money’s worth. Windsor was able to keep up with Grace on the mat, and perhaps was even sharper than Grace when it came to that aspect of the match, but Grace found an advantage in her natural strength, bullying Windsor around the ring and even finding the time to mock the ref’s muscles (or lack of). Still, Windsor was able to get the surprise tap-out over ‘Thic Momma Pump’, which is a hell of a big victory to have behind you. Hopefully, Alex Windsor will ride that wave of momentum into something big. Grace, meanwhile, was serenaded with chants of ‘please come back,’ which might have eased the pain of defeat a little.
While we’re on the subject of women getting technical, Jetta and Charlie Morgan had a great, mat-based encounter. You could tell the match meant a lot to both women and there was absolutely mutual respect between the two. It was an evenly matched contest, with both women having moments to shine and struggling to grab a definite advantage over the other. Morgan snatched the victory in the end, although both women came across like winners, scaling the turnbuckles afterwards to bask in the adoration of the audience.
Pure was a success, 100%, from start to finish. The crowd was red-hot; the use of red and blue lighting and pyro for Wrestle Carnival’s first nighttime show gave things a cool vibe and a professional vibe, as did the videos they used to introduce certain matches and hype the crowd; and most importantly, the wrestling was extremely exciting from bell to bell, and not just the big names either. The likes of Powerhouse Blake, Will Croos, Alex Windsor, Mercedez Blaze, Charles Crowley, Jetta and Charlie Morgan completely deserve all the adulation I can give for a show that never slowed down and never gave anything less than the best.
I must have enjoyed the show because I bought a Wrestle Carnival t-shirt, and my wife can tell you how tight-fisted I am (I’m laughing as I type this).
Ultimately, though, there was one match, in particular, we will be talking about for a long, long time. Jonathan Gresham and Chris Ridgeway gave all of themselves for our entertainment and I hope the sheer adoration that fed back from the audience to both wrestlers at the end of the night gave both men enough back.
Wrestling is PURE and so is Wrestle Carnival. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Wrestle Carnival competing with British big boys like PROGRESS and RevPro if they continue putting on extraordinary shows like this one.
Join the Carnival now and be a part of it!
Matches from Wrestle Carnival ‘PURE’ will be aired on Ring of Honor’s ‘Week by Week’ show on YouTube in the near future. Check out @OliRingside for more wonderful photographs from Wrestle Carnival ‘PURE.’