By Michael Lanza
May 30, 2018 6:50 PM
Hello everyone, Michael Lanza here, everyone’s favorite snobby wrestling critic.
I just got back from Vegas yesterday afternoon and had the chance to reflect on what could possibly be one of the greatest weekends of my life. That is because I got the chance to attend all four days of EAW’s annual super-card extravaganza, Pain for Pride 11 (stylized this year as ‘Pain for Pride Festival’).
This is the first Pain for Pride I’ve attended since PFP 7, and my goodness what a difference four years makes. When I attended my last PFP in Michigan Stadium, Pain for Pride was a two day event being headlined by Dark Demon, Zack Crash and Mikado Sekaiichi. Diamond Cage was in the opening match, Rex McAllister was a developmental talent, Ronn Banks was years away from an EAW return and Mr. DEDEDE was… still Mr. DEDEDE. Okay, so perhaps not everything has changed, however the entity that is ”Pain for Pride” has evolved to unfathomable heights that I did not believe could be possible. I can still remember sitting in Michigan Stadium among 100,000 other spectators thinking to myself, “this is as big as it gets.” However EAW somehow managed to quadruple the magnitude of this historic event by turning a typical wrestling stadium show into a paradigm-shifting cultural movement that affected the globe.
I am an ardent critic with staunch principles in wrestling that I carry with me everywhere I go. I believe in traditionalism, but I also believe in growth. If wrestling can expand to the greatest possible lengths, I will gladly compromise. The thing about EAW’s expansion however is that it has come without sacrificing it’s integrity. If anything, EAW’s identity has reached a return to form that hasn’t quite been replicated since the late 2000’s. I of course have been aware of this heading into the event, however Pain for Pride Festival as an event was the culmination of EAW’s “restore the feeling” manifesto established earlier this year. Not every part of this event was 6-star caliber television, and I’ll be sure to point out my few grievances, however for those looking to avoid my day-by-day breakdown of the event, take it for me: Pain for Pride Festival was a tremendous success.
Moving on, I’ll take you through a day by day breakdown of my experience.
I leave my hotel room at 4:30 pst, arrive to the Motor Speedway an hour early. BIG MISTAKE. An hour early is not enough. One major criticism is the lack of extensive personnel to allow you into the venue. There are gates all over the place, however many of them go unused. This resulted in ridiculously long lines — including a NIGHTMARISH line for Day 4 that I was fortunate enough to skip due to my press credentials.
I enter the venue by 5:45, and I suddenly enter the pro wrestling version of Mecca. Correction — any city that Pain for Pride arrives to automatically becomes the “city of wrestling.” Every dining establishment, bar, pub, casino, grocery store, you name it becomes dedicated to this event. However standing inside the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, everywhere you look is crawling with EAW-inspired attractions, rides, it’s as if EAW created its very own theme-park. Thousands upon thousands of individuals were already inside, many of them enjoying performances from artists and DJs.
There were many fans who chose to watch some of the major performances rather than the wrestling event; however do not be mistaken, every single individual who attended this Festival was a wrestling fan. I befriended a couple, for example, who went to see Lupe Fiasco perform during Day 2 yet flew IN from Italy to see their favorite wrestlers; Astraea Jordan and Madison Kaline. Wrestling was by far the biggest draw of this event, however it was not the only draw. I didn’t get a chance to see many performances — the only one I particularly cared for was Lana Del Rey. I’m just not necessarily a big music guy, I vibe to anything that I hear in passing.
6 PM PST, the show begins, and the Pain for Pride 11 opening features a breathtaking display from a “Mother Goddess” construct, supposedly a metaphor for Pain for Pride being the “mother of all wrestling events.” That’s at least what I picked up from it. Nevertheless it was futuristic, breathtaking, and the firework show was absolutely incredible. It was the most amazing display of pyro that I’ve ever seen. You had USMC parachutist jumping out of planes leaving chemtrail colors, which was just unreal. The production of this overall event is a 100/10. EAW went full throttle to make this event feel like it mattered, and it did. You know it matters when you get a notification from Snapchat (yes, the app itself) informing you that Pain for Pride Festival is live.
Opening match was between Crowes Nest and Jaded Hearts. Big fan of both teams, could have gone either way. Smart choice to put two factions with cult-like followings against each other to get people invested from the hook. Jaded Hearts went over courtesy of Sienna’s finishing maneuver, got an insane pop from it. Sienna Jade is one of my favorite women’s wrestlers to come out in a long time, and Kassidy Heart is right up there with her. Raven Roberts has all the tools of a future Womens Champion, and I’m a total stan for Chelsea and Jael.
The Diamond Cage #FuckAriaJaxon segment was probably a low point for me, but not for the reasons you might suspect. For those unaware, Aria Jaxon is a disgraced former Women’s Champion who walked out of the company right before it’s post-REVOLT merger boom period. She was a very good talent for what it’s worth, but she’s been replaced tenfold, rendering her name as void of any relevance. Probably not worth promoting her name in any capacity in such an event like this. Such a gesture is quite honestly beneath EAW.
Next up came POP vs HBB, two of the greatest Elitists to ever do it. As expected they delivered an exciting ladder match, elevating the prestige of the National Elite title with their very entertaining feud. The throwback to Project EGO by using “Mercy” by Kanye West got a pop from me, though it didn’t get as thunderous a response as I thought it would. Perhaps to be expected out of 5-year-old references, but still, great touch. POP retained in a great match, better than their PFP 6 contest which really says a lot considering these two were once considered to be “past their prime.” POP is certainly making the case for being the all-time greatest National Elite Champion.
The Openweight Title match had this crowd ridiculously invested, to the point I was shaking inside. I was sitting among 150,000 people in Kinetic Field, MANY of them young people (perhaps the youngest EAW crowd since Pain for Pride 5) and boy was their energy infectious. I had the chance to attend the World Cup in Brazil, and the energy here was bigger than that throughout the duration of the 4 day event. This crowd made the match feel so much bigger, and there was a lot of genuine shock when Andrea Valentine picked up the victory. There’s nothing in the way of her becoming a future World Champion, and I would absolutely love to see it.
Interesting moment between Matt Daniels and Scott Diamond, however referring back to the audience again, this segment was impossible to hear due to this crowd. As much as the energy was infectious, there were many times I found myself incredibly annoyed by their constant nose. EAW found itself having to boost its sound system after Night 1 due to constant chanting, cheering, self-entertainment, and following Night 2 the rest of the event was riddled with chants of “FUCK!” over and over again thanks to the mid-match outburst of Chris Elite. Upon the replay on my way back to the hotel I realized the importance of this confrontation between Diamond and his old mentor, and I’ll expound on it more later.
Cameron Ella Ava vs Haruna Sakazaki was next, and it was a nice match with a super surprising finish. I felt sorry for Haruna going into this because I believe she’d essentially be walking into a retirement match with a guaranteed loss, however Haruna delivered an exit performance like no other. I understand Cam couldn’t go all out — after all she had a title to defend the very next night. Still, Sakazaki earned this victory against an all time great, and if she can take anything away from her trials and tribulations as an EAW Elitist, it’s that perseverance can you lead you to unforeseen destinations bigger than your wildest imagination.
Throughout the show I constantly (stupidly) asked myself “where does EAW go from here?” I was of the belief that EAW has been giving away too much too early, with so many big matches already taking place as it was. Scott Diamond vs Darkane was admittedly not a match I was excited for. I’m a fan of Darkane, however I felt Scott Diamond was a shell of what he was five years ago. In this Match of the Year Candidate headline for Night 1, I was thoroughly proven wrong. We saw a Scott Diamond who gave his best performance since the last time he headlined this event. I’m not some sleazeball who likes to throw around star ratings, but I know a five star match when I see one. I met (what felt like) hundreds of people going into this thing, and none of them spoke about this match. However leaving this event, that match was all thy could talk about. There is genuine excitement for Darkane as the new Answers World Champion, and even in a losing effort Diamond could very well be in the midst of the biggest career revival of 2018.
I arrive at the Motor Speedway at 3PM, get to indulge in some pricey Festival food and meet many individuals. Quite a diverse demographic, people from many countries flew in for this event. I don’t take Pain for Pride for a family event but it is an event that families attend, so it was a bit uncomfortable to see so many scantily clad young women and then see soccer moms with their kids at just the turn of a head. Moral dilemmas aside, the environment was extremely positive. People were gracious, coming from all 50 states and 100 countries simply to have a good time and bond with each other over the same sport.
Opening match for the New Breed Champion. Crowd was hot — and I mean HOT, for Xander Payne. All four guys got a nice reception. Opening matches always get the best of a wrestling crowd, but my goodness Xander’s title win was perhaps the biggest pop from the crowd so far at this event. It also took social media by storm, holy moly were people happy. Think I even saw some grown men crying. Not even kidding.
Next up was an entertaining segment from Johnny Ventura featuring CWF veterans. This was dark comedy, which is something this company is known for and something that I am a fan of. Ventura and Gary V (I see what you did there EAW, playing on the “V” thing for Ventura as an old reference to his V for Vendetta gimmick). It was grotesque humor and I felt bad for laughing, but my goodness did I belly laugh. I wrote a column over a month ago urging for Ventura to find his new niche, and find a creative concept to cling on to. Boy has he found it with “Who Is Next”, and this crowd certainly did not let it go. Interesting tidbit: the Avicii namedrop from Ventura actually incited some boos. It appears these festival fans have a soft spot for the deceased DJ who passed away earlier this year. The whole thing was tasteless –funny, but tasteless.
Terry vs Nemesis wasn’t a match I cared much about going into it, but the bout kept my attention and had its fair share of humor as well as good action. Terry’s family was dragged into this by Nemesis with his… intimations, and the Chambers clan made sure that Nemesis paid for it by scrubbing off his facepaint following the match. Terry would be inexplicably assaulted by Erebus, which personally I’m not a fan of. Backstage assaults shouldn’t be able to happen at Pain for Pride. One assault at the wrong place at the wrong time and an entire event headline could be ruined, putting millions of dollars in jeopardy. Fortunately this did not occur.
Next comes the Unified Tag Team Championship match, which was a highlight of the entire four day event. Kinkade and Marr are two of the more promising Elitists I’ve seen debut in recent memory, and their showing in the NWO match at the most recent Showdown Supershow made me incredibly optimistic. Cameron Ella Ava and Mr. DEDEDE put on such an amazing entrance. I was dubious of DDD’s entire “GMC” charade from the moment it started, but that display completely suspended my disbelief. That entrance took the whole crowd into a different universe. Viewers at home clearly felt the same, as #WHATISLOVE became the number 1 trend on twitter, a feature on Snapchat, and basically broke the internet. Apparently the song itself has re-entered the Billboard charts for the first time in decades. As for the match itself, the match was fantastic. It was a thriller from beginning to ending, with the pace keeping 150,000+ people on their toes from beginning to end. Ripley’s interference does leave a sour taste in my mouth. Jack Ripley helping DDD and Cam retain left me confused, especially in the way he went about it, but little did I know all my questions were just 24 hours away from being answered.
#JadedSummer is a thing and I’m here for it. The Jaded Hearts backstage interview was indicative of why I’m so excited for these two going forward. Empire recently made a two year, $1B TV deal with Fox, and Fox executives are supposedly really high on these two. Clearly they see what I see.
Perhaps my personal favorite moment of the night came next, as Cody Marshall and Johnny Ventura took it back to old school EAW days with an impressive Hardcore Title match. Most importantly, Ventura came away with his first major Marquee event victory since defeating Liam Catterson in London at Pain for Pride 8. This may be the first biased thing that I say in my review so far, but Johnny Ventura winning the Hardcore Championship literally made me jump for joy. Apparently Ventura was made aware of the op-ed I wrote on him a while ago, and he supposedly took it very seriously. I don’t want to take any credit for his success, but as a loyal supporter of his for 7 years this moment feels good. To me Ventura is a throwback to the generation in wrestling of decades ago that was unafraid to take unique, provocative risks in order to express themselves the way they see fit. I had the disappointment of watching him falter in Seattle against Liam Catterson, and it’s wonderful to see him turn things around.
Our headline match featured Elitist of the Year candidate, Chris Elite defending his World Heavyweight Championship against Malcolm Jones in a burnburner. This match was epic. Long, grueling, but a war. The story going into this was full of references that I didn’t understand, so I had to do a lot of research going into this to understand the Paid In Full references and rewatch their earlier run-ins in REVOLT! and on NEO. This rivalry wasn’t for everybody, but all you truly had to know was that these were men from similar backgrounds who had a bond broken over the lust of championship gold. This was what you would expect from two individuals who were closer than brothers following a horrific falling out. Again, the way the story was told may not be for everyone, but the match certainly was. A contender for Match of the Night as well as Match of the Year, these two threw everything and the kitchen sink at each other because they were so well accustomed to what the other had to offer. With two New York boroughs watching with bated breath, these two fought not just in spite of one another, or for exaltation of their own selves, but also the pride of where they came from. A lot of outside interference, but if you’ve been paying attention you would know this was never going to be clean cut story of gentlemanly sportsmanship, this was about obtaining supremacy by any means. The ending was particularly gruesome, and I would hope we never see another Avalanche One Winged Angel in EAW ever again. I was awestruck by the firework display following Chris Elite’s title retention, and a little bit sickened by the final moments of that match. Still, Day 2 left me amazed and also left me wondering “what could top this?”
Michael Lanza is a broadcast journalist and columnist who has covered pro-wrestling since the late 1990s. He has a BA in Journalism as well as a BA in Media Ecology, and worked ten years across Canada as a Hockey, Basketball and Pro-Wrestling analyst. He is an occasional host of Canada-based talk show “Off The Record” which is known for being highly controversial, as Lanza prides himself in asking the ‘tough questions’ and conducting interviews in an unscripted, uncensored fashion.