MLW: Intimidation Games and Fusion Tapings Live Impressions

Major League Wrestling ran the Cicero Stadium outside Chicago, Illinois on March 2 for its “Intimidation Games” special and “Fusion” television tapings.

MLW is one of the pro wrestling promotions I try to follow regularly.  I like the roster the company has. Generally every week the television is easy to get through, featuring solid matches, good promos from wrestlers and consistent storylines. I don’t have cable, and even if I did I probably wouldn’t have beIN SPORTS, the channel MLW airs live on every Saturday. I usually catch the full show on YouTube that the company uploads the next day after it airs on television. I missed MLW’s first tour to the Chicago area last November so I didn’t want to miss its second run too.

I bought bleacher seats for $10 a few days before the show, which ended up costing $14.16 after taxes and fees. All of the other seating was sold out.

I had never been to Cicero Stadium before (which is in, you guessed it, Cicero, Illinois). I live in Chicago and it only took about 30 minutes to get there. This is a fantastic place for pro wrestling shows. It seems like any seat in the building would have a great view. The bleacher seats I had were perfect and I could see everything up close. Parking right near the building was $10 and not the $5 advertised online, so it ended up being the same price as the ticket to the show.

At the entrance where the the ring and seats were was a small merchandise table and a longer concession stand. When I got there Simon Gotch and Gringo Loco were sitting at the tables along with a few people working the MLW merch section. T-shirts of MLW, Hart Foundation, LA Park, Tom Lawlor and 1-2 others were $25 while MLW hoodies were $45. There wasn’t a lot of merch or individual performers selling their stuff. I though this was surprising and a missed opportunity given how many people were there. They did have a VIP meet and greet before doors opened, so maybe they had more wrestlers and merchandise then.

The show started on time around 7:00 p.m. They announced it as a sold out show. It was supposedly a turn-away crowd at the door, which is a cool thing to say but who knows if that’s actually true. There was reportedly over 2,000 people in the building. A majority of the people there were Hispanic, maybe in the 60-65 percent range. There were lots of families, and kids about 10 years old and younger. There was a very Hispanic vibe to the crowd throughout the night. There were lots of chants and taunting in Spanish, counting the referee’s pin in Spanish, and even one guy sounding a bull horn.

Jim Cornette joined the announce team to broadcast with Rich Bocchini. He got a big reaction when his music hit and he walked out. He went around and shook all the hands in the front row. He seemed enthusiastic and happy to be there. Tony Schiavone adds a certain flavor and legitimacy to the shows, but since MLW recently moved its tapings from Friday to Saturday nights there are some scheduling conflicts where he is unable to announce. Cornette should be a good addition to the company.

These were two matches to start the night that were not part of Intimidation Games. The event opened with Alexander Hammerstone versus Isaias Velazquez. It went about six minutes. There wasn’t much to the match. This was my first time seeing Hammerstone. He’s got a good look.

Next was Teddy Hart versus Myron Reed for the MLW Middleweight Championship that started around 7:15. Teddy was over big with the crowd. The Hart Foundation were cheered a lot when they came out too. The Hart Foundation is up there as one of my favorite factions in wrestling right now, and I like each individual guy a lot. The taped segments  and promos they do on the shows are hilarious. For most of the match Reed worked over Hart’s ribs that were taped up. He looked to be in pain the whole contest. It was a good match. Hart retained the title with a backslide roll-up. It was about a 15 minute match with their entrances.

The best match of the night was the Lucha Bros versus the AAA team of Taurus and Laredo Kid that was taped for Intimidation Games. Pentagon and Fenix got huge reactions. They were super over. Pentagon and Fenix are such stars. It was close to a 20 minute match with just a lot of fun action the whole time. Towards the end Fenix dove outside and ended up in the front row while a few seconds later Pentagon got the win. The crowd threw money into the ring afterwards. It was an excellent match. Fenix cut a passionate promo thanking the Chicago fans and said “This is my life!” Pentagon did a quick promo in Spanish. The four guys shook hands and posed afterwards.

Around 7:55 the steel cage started being put up for the heavyweight title match between Tom Lawlor and Low-Ki on Intimidation Games. It took a lot to put the cage together, like a group of over 10 people. One side almost fell into the opposite side of the bleachers at one point. At around 8:10 the announcers came back out, and the cage was mostly done being constructed.

There was a weird long break between the first three matches and the cage match. I don’t know if they were on commercial breaks or airing vignettes, but it felt like forever. The fans were getting tired of waiting too. The whole building started chanting “We want wrestling!” at 8:32. This big gap in time broke up the pacing of the show.

The world title match on Feb. 2 at MLW’s “SuperFight” show where Lawlor won the belt from Low-Ki was flat. The match was too short and abruptly ended. I know what they were going for, but it didn’t come across well or fit the long build the feud had, especially given Low-Ki’s protected undefeated streak in MLW. They did like an MMA-style match that also included a spot in the ring where Low-Ki missed Lawlor and punched through a table set up against the turnbuckle, so it was a weird combination. I think the television filming hurt the match too because it felt rushed. With the way the feud was built I had expected that the entire show was going to be on uninterrupted iPPV.

Lawlor and Low-Ki both got loud reactions during their entrances that started at 8:33. I like both guys, but especially Low-Ki. Salina de la Renta has a real strong presence and comes across as a star. The ring announcer did a great job making it feel an important world title match during his announcements before it started. Lawlor was the first to throw Low-Ki into the cage after a few minutes. They kind of did the match like an MMA fight. Both guys did a lot of strikes. For most of the match there wasn’t a lot of using the cage as a weapon or throwing each other into it. They did lots of submission holds. Salina gave some sort of weapon to Low-Ki at one point. She’s great at taunting the fans. They teased Low-Ki doing his stomp finisher from the top of the cage.

Lawlor retained the title by falling to the floor before Low-Ki. The rematch itself was decent. I didn’t like the ending of the cage match either, which finished at 8:54. Both guys were climbing down the cage and stopped less than halfway for a few minutes. They started punching each other and trying to hold onto the cage at the same time. It felt like they were hitting each other forever. Both guys were so close to the floor that either one could have just jumped down and won the match, so why didn’t they? It looked bad. The crowd started to crap on it a bit too. This finish always comes across as anticlimactic. It was cool the first time we saw it however many years ago but it’s difficult to replicate that feeling now. The cage match ended up not being the most memorable part of the night when it should have been the main highlight.

They shot a lot of angles throughout the night. Simon Gotch, Jacob Fatu and Josef Salaem came out as Lawlor celebrated the win outside the ring. They’re calling the group “Contra.” Jacob Fatu debuted for the company and came across as a big deal. He was great. Gotch shaved off all his facial hair so he looks weird now. He had a distinct look before with his mustache. They did a number on Lawlor and left him laying in the ring. Fatu climbed the cage and did a splash from the top, which the crowd went crazy for. It looked like he crushed Lawlor. Fatu had a lot of intensity and felt like somebody important.

Some old Hispanic guy, maybe in his late 60s or into his 70s, was in the front row yelling at the group and putting up his fists like he was ready to fight them. Salaem got up close to him like he was going to make a move. The crowd got super behind the fan and he got a huge pop. It was hilarious.

At 9:10 the “MLW Fusion” television tapings started. Simon Gotch versus Ace Romero was the opening match. Romero got a strong reaction at his entrance. During the match he did a dive outside the ring to Gotch that got the place crazy. It looks impressive given his huge size. The crowd did loud chants of “Where’s your mustache?” at Gotch. At 9:15 Gotch’s group ran in and got the match thrown out. They beat up Romero pretty bad and bloodied him up. Salaem had some sort of spike that busted Romero open. This went on for several minutes. The crowd was into it.  During the angle this little girl sitting in front of me who was probably like 7 or 8 was like, “Someone go and help him!” and “They ruined it!”

I think the crowd started chanting “abuelito” during this for the old fan from earlier but I couldn’t make it out clearly. Fatu went to the top turnbuckle and called the old Hispanic guy out again. I hope they got all this stuff with the old fan on camera because it was excellent.

Ricky Martinez versus Air Wolf started at 9:25. This was an alright match that went for about eight minutes. Martinez won. It was sloppy at a few points but still decent. Air Wolf has a cool look with his mask and gear, and the crowd got behind him.

Ace Austin faced DJ Z in a “Battle Riot” (MLW’s Royal Rumble-styled event) qualifying match that started at 9:35. Good match. It ended after about seven minutes and was hard hitting. There were lots of hard kicks/head damage and aerial moves. DJZ got a nice reaction and Austin looked good. Every time I’ve seen DJZ live he always performs well.

This random tag team came out for a match against Fatu and Salaem, but instead got beat up by them and Simon Gotch. This was a really good angle. The match got thrown out after only a few minutes when Saleem used that same weapon from the previous angle with Romero. After beating up his partner on the outside, Contra really worked over the other guy. Fatu hit him with a pop up Samoan Drop that looked awesome. He also hit the guy with a moonsault from the top rope. As officials were about to stretcher him out from inside the ring, Fatu hit another moonsault and broke both the guy and stretcher in half. This was fantastic. The fans were seriously into it.

They started taunting the fans afterwards. Someone either threw a water bottle at them or they threw one into the crowd. It quickly turned into the whole building throwing beer, water bottles, Gatorade and garbage at them in the ring. This was legitimate old school heat rather than fans trying to be part of the show. It was awesome. There was tons of trash in the ring. As they left, some fans chanted that Fatu should be part of the “Uso Penitentiary,” in reference to the WWE’s Usos.

Daga versus Ariel Dominguez was next. This was about a ten minute match. Daga dominated for most of it. It wasn’t really that interesting. Dominguez is a much smaller guy in stature that the crowd had a hard time getting behind. Daga didn’t do much that stood out during the match either. He got a nice reaction when he waved the Mexican flag in the ring before the match started. Afterwards they did a pull-apart with Daga and Low-Ki, who was announcing the match.

Puma King versus El Hijo de LA Park followed. Fans were really into Puma King. He’s super charismatic. This turned into a hardcore match with weapons and fighting outside the ring. They both repeated a spot where one guy was laying in the corner of the ring and had a chair in his groin, and then they swung another chair into it. El Hijo de LA Park first took a chair from a fan in the front row. Later in the match Puma King took the same guy’s chair that he had just replaced. That was pretty funny and good improvisation from Puma King. This turned into a pretty solid match that went around 15 minutes with entrances. Salina interfered a lot by grabbing Puma King’s legs or taunting him. She was great with yelling at the fans in the front row. Puma King won with a lucha-type roll up. Mance Warner was doing announcing, and towards the end of the match he took Cornette’s tennis racket and whacked El Hijo de LA Park in the back with a super loud hit. He came out with an opened case of Miller Lite and then left with it too, which was funny.

The Hart Foundation of Teddy Hart and Davey Boy Smith Jr. versus MJF and Richard Holliday for the tag team titles was next. They are calling MJF’s group “The Dynasty, ” which also includes Alex Hammerstone. I was looking forward to this match the most. MJF cut a promo before the match talking about how Stu Hart’s legacy was left into the wrong hands to Teddy Hart. He said that Stu was up in heaven, but then stopped himself, stomped the ring, said Stu was actually in hell and how Teddy basically ruined the Hart name. The fans booed him a lot.

Davey Boy Smith Jr. kicks and slaps around his opponents really hard. He’s one of my favorite guys right now. He looks huge, and his moves come across as stiff and legitimate. The match went around 20 minutes. It ended with a DQ finish as Hammerstone came through the crowd and hit Dave Boy Smith Jr. in the back with a chair as Teddy was up top about to do a double team move. The Dynasty beat up the Hart Foundation after. This was a lame finish for a title match and felt kind of disappointing overall. The match never fully picked up. There were lots of spots with the referee being distracted and The Dynasty did double team moves, or the other guy on the apron attacked Teddy. Smith would be on the apron all frustrated and actually come in a few times to attack them. Hart was still feeling the effects of his taped up ribs for the whole match. Presumably a rematch will happen where both teams can let loose more.

MJF gets a lot of reaction from the crowd when he talks or does something in the ring. Teddy Hart got big support from the fans. The crowd chanted “Thank you Teddy” afterward the match, who could barely walk to the back.

At 10:47 Myron Reed came out again to face Gringo Loco. I think Gringo Loco is from the south side of Chicago, so he’s got that local guy aspect going for him. At this point the crowd was really tired. Gringo Loco still got chants though. He did a dive outside the ring and some typical Lucha spots. It went about 10 minutes. He won the match after two top rope moves, which was decent enough. Reed took the loss out on the referee afterwards.

The energy in the building definitely went down following the tag title match. Plenty of people had started to leave after it. There were a lot of families with kids, so the show ran late even for a Saturday night. I was pretty tired too. I got into the building around 6:20 so I was there over five hours.

The ring announcer’s microphone stopped working after the Gringo Loco match. He didn’t have a working microphone for several minutes and kept trying to talk into it. He told the fans in my bleacher section to fill the empty spaces for the television view. The place started chanting “Fill this hole” and then “That’s what she said.” I guess they only had one mic in the entire building. Nobody came out to give him another one. It came across as real low budget.

At 11:02 Hammerstone came out again, this time to face Brian Pillman Jr.  MJF cut another promo and said Teddy Hart was in jail again. He called the fans white trash just like Teddy was. It’s good they got the only microphone working again so MJF could actually talk. The fans shouted him down knowing the microphone hadn’t been working. Hammerstone beat Pillman clean after eight minutes. Decent match, but the crowd was tired. Hammerstone has a good finisher. There was another beat down on Pillman after. Holliday has a good look too but I don’t know much about him either.

At 11:13 the night’s main event finally started, which was advertised as a deathmatch between LA Park and Mance Warner. I wouldn’t call this a deathmatch but more like a traditional hardcore match. Even though everyone was tired, LA Park got a big reaction, especially when he held the Mexican flag before the match or did his trademark dance. The match was kind of boring at first. They fought in the crowd. Later in the ring LA Park hit Warner with his belt that came across super loud. They did some chest slapping back and forth. They threw chairs at each other faces, which didn’t look that protected. Warner did an eye poke spot from the ring apron while LA Park was on the outside that got a good reaction. LA Park put Warner through a table on the outside near the corner guardrail. He also did a fast, aggressive dive outside to Warner near the ring entrance side that looked great, considering his size and age. Later LA Park set up a board on two chairs then did a leg drop through Warner. At the end they somewhat botched a superplex and fell awkwardly, but LA Park went for a pin and smoothed it over. LA Park won with a spear in the corner at 11:36. It was a good match and sent the crowd home happy.

The night ended around 11:40 PM, so the event was over four and a half hours. It did go really long, which unfortunately is the nature of taping so many matches and television episodes during one night. The tickets advertised the show going from 7:00 p.m. to 10:30. The tag title match finish deflated the crowd. It also hurt seeing the same guys twice like Myron Reed or Alex Hammerstone. It did feel like they were just running through matches towards the end of the night while the first part of the show had long breaks in-between.

It was a good show and a strong value for the ticket prices. All the matches were at least solid, with a few standouts like the ones with Lucha Bros, Puma King and LA Park. There were some disappointing finishes though. The crowd was invested in the show for most of the night even when they were tired. The Hart Foundation were popular. MJF got a great reaction. He really is going to be a star, presumably with All Elite Wrestling once that promotion gets going. Salina de la Renta was great every time she was out at ringside. I liked Jacob Fatu a lot. Fatu should be a strong addition for MLW the way he came across at the event.

MLW is returning to Cicero Stadium on July 6 for “Kings of Colosseum” television tapings. The tickets were put up for sale during the show.

 

 

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