By Michael Lanza
May 30, 2018 6:50 PM
5:30 PM. It was an overcast afternoon in Vegas, with thankfully no rain or humidity by the time I rolled into the Motor Speedway. Ridiculously long line yet again, however after Day 1 I was granted press credentials as well as backstage access. Still, it certainly must have been frustrating for anybody trying to enter the venue after 4PM.
The Mother Goddess character returned for the show intro yet again, and I’ll never quite get over the vision of a giant robot goddess seducing an entire wrestling crowd. It mystifies me to this day. The event begins with the Specialist Scramble, which was a really fun match to experience and told a great story. The audience was jubilant to say the least over Remi Skyfire’s victory. This is an individual who was, for all intents and purposes, shafted by Raven Roberts on Empire and has earned dare I say “sympathy” from the crowd. I was personally pulling for Daisy Thrash to come away with the win here tonight. I feel the Specialist Title can take someone like her to the next level, however Skyfire cannot be denied as a performer.
Following this was a really sad moment where Hurricane Hawk would announce his retirement. This was something I saw coming following Dynasty a couple of weeks ago. Truthfully I didn’t expect Hawk to win this match. Unfortunately I do feel like the modern era of competition has passed him by. It’s a shame, because the man is still young for a wrestler and can still accomplish a lot of great things in an EAW ring, however by many accounts 50% of the game is mental. If your heart’s not in this 100 percent, your ability will stifle. Hawk made the right decision to salvage his legacy, and regardless of whatever trials and tribulations he may have endured he is still a two-time EAW Hall of Famer, and can cash in on that for the rest of his life.
Ahren Fournier would retain his Interwire Title against Lars Grier in the following match. Lars has had a season 11 filled with ups and downs, however I am of the opinion that he is competing far below his potential. When Lars defeated APOCALYPSE last year at Territorial Invasion, there wasn’t a person on this planet who could tell me that this man wasn’t going to leave Pain for Pride as a World Champion. Flash forward, and while he put on a decent effort, it was far from enough to defeat the likes of Ahren Fournier. Fournier has developed into one of the most threatening forces in the entire company. It took me a while to grow on him at first, and quite frankly I found his previous incarnations such as the “Trill Fairy” to be a bit off-putting. Since then however, Fournier has developed into one of the scariest individuals from an athletic standpoint. He is hitting a stride that could very well lead him into a run rivaled by few in this company’s history.
Next up was a hilarious scene featuring EAW Hall of Famers Andy “WWEFan” Dominguez and Lethal Consequences along with Woogieman, TLA and his harem of vegas showgirls. The crowd loved this one, and so did I. The legends reminisce on the old days, discuss potentially coming back with a macabre quip by LC regarding the price to pay for competing in the squared circle. Woogieman is a personality and a half, and of course everything TLA touches turns into comedy gold; he is magic as a personality and we all know how great of a performer he is in the ring. Really great stuff.
The 24/7 Battle Royal was the best one in years. It allowed many different EAW talents, including a returning Mark Michaels, to display their talents in front of the biggest wrestling crowd in the history of the world. Some standouts to me were Tyler Wolfe, Ryan Wilson, Sunami Tayo, The Core Brothers (my newest favorite tag team). Ultimately the favorite of this match, Jack Ripley came away with the win. Obviously Ripley received a big reaction. If there were a tag team Hall of Fame, this man would be in it as a first ballot member; however tonight he certainly proved he can accomplish a major career-altering feat on his own.
Following this would be the fateful match between Ronn Banks and Theron Nikolas. I can’t help but shudder just thinking about this contest. A LOT of hype for this one, which doesn’t surprise me considering the name value as well as the stakes. I had a bit of a sinking feeling going into this one, but for what it’s worth the match was a real nail-biter. Banks looked to be in the best shape of his career, certainly appearing to be more lean and toned than ever before. This was not a ‘flabby n sick’ Ronn Banks, he clearly hasn’t stopped training since his 2017 run in EAW, and his performance showed for it. This was certainly the best Banks since his retirement in 2012. Unfortunately we would see Ronn Banks forced back into retirement after EAW Chairman, Mr. DEDEDE showed up to intentionally screw over his long time business partner and destroy a relationship of over 11 years.
From a match standpoint, this was a riveting showcase. In some ways I’m excited to see the aftermath and the next direction for this Theron, DDD, Ripley alliance. There is no doubt EAW as a landscape is going to take a drastic turn with these three talents as a unit. However as a viewer and as a member of the crowd what I witnessed was a moral low point for the entire event. Mr. DEDEDE’s alliance with Theron Nikolas and Jack Ripley is 10 steps back for DDD as a legend and as a human being, and it is demoralizing to think the EAW Chairman is now aiding and abetting the corruption of Theron and Ripley. I plan on covering this topic as a whole in the future, however I must point out the change in mood for the entire venue following the conclusion of this match. The “FUCK” chants were in full effect for the rest of the night, and I can speak for the rest of the audience when I say it genuinely felt like we all had our legs cut out from under us.
The layout of Pain for Pride Festival has it so that there’s a “town square” behind Kinetic Field, which is basically at the center of the entire Las Vegas Motor Speedway with food, services, merchandise and utilities there — however the Festival Square itself provides a Roundabout intersection to lead you to various other events during the festival such as other stages, carnival rides, places to get food and use the restroom and miscellaneous affairs. During the intermission I attempted to rush to grab a bite, and I noticed fans who had not made it far enough into Kinetic Field were crammed into “viewing tents” to watch the show from there. I also got a chance to go into the giant Circuit Grounds tent to visit the backstage atmosphere, and there appeared to be quite a bit of distress and pandemonium regarding what took place earlier with Ronn Banks. Unfortunately by the time I finished getting food and snooping around backstage, Stephanie Matsuda was already making her entrance, so I instead opted to watch the match from one of the viewing tents.
This being said, I don’t know if the controversy beforehand sucked the air out of the crowd, or if the show simply doesn’t sound the same on TV as it does in person, but I noticed a bit of a drop off in the audience. The match itself was phenomenal, and a lot of people appeared to rave about it online. The part where Kassidy Heart takes the blow for Sienna is apparently a meme going around the Twitterverse, oh the things we do for our friends… Anywho, Matsuda retained her title and simultaneously won the REVOLT! Freeweight title to create the EAW Unified Women’s Championship. It is my opinion that the big stage may have gotten to Sienna. This was Matsuda’s third Pain for Pride appearance, and only Sienna’s first. Granted, this was not Sienna’s first match of the event; however she was out there alone that evening, and while she may not have been victorious it is highly likely that Sienna uses this loss as a lesson and makes the proper adjustments to kick Season 12 off with a #JadedSummer. As for Matsuda, an epic performance tonight puts her in prime position for leading Empire into the new season under the biggest spotlight placed on any singular EAW brand in the history of the company. The pressure’s on.
On this day, the world anticipated the final day of Pain for Pride Festival. In Vegas you could hear people in every direction talking about this event just in passing. You couldn’t even get a cup of coffee without being reminded about Ronn Banks being forced into retirement. People even thought it all might have been staged, and that Banks was actually in on the stunt the whole time — can you believe that? It felt like wrestling was the only sport in the world, and it felt like EAW was the only wrestling company in the world. Hell, it might as well have been.
Driving into the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the traffic was horrendous. I was smart enough to arrive to the venue three hours in advance, but I wasn’t nearly as smart as the people stuck in line hours before my arrival. There were times where my car would not move for 20-30 minutes, and by the time I was able to enter the venue the show was set to begin in a few short moments. They needed to do an “emergency expansion” of Kinetic Field, which is why it’s been estimated close to 200,000 people were in that part of the Motor Speedway alone. At the time it was a frustrating endeavor, but in hindsight it was truly stunning what this company had accomplished. Major news outlets were there to cover this event for all four days, but representatives from CNN, NBC, CBS, Fox, Univision, ESPN, BBC and various global outlets made it difficult to enter the building even with a press pass.
After the last three days I foolishly came in with the attitude of “what’s next?” I felt EAW might have “blown it’s load” so to speak by putting out so much in the first three days, and I thought to myself there’s probably not gonna be much left for Day 4. Boy was I wrong.
The show begins with Impact vs Jamie, and as soon as their faces are shown on the jumbo screens the whole place goes absolutely crazy. I immediately feel like an idiot. Two of the greatest competitors to ever do it, two of the respective best dynasties in this company going head to head with the stakes so high…. and the match paid off in dividends. Probably the fourth or fifth MOTY caliber contest kicks off, and 200,000 people are hanging on every last move that they make. It was a gorgeous finish with Impact countering for the win with the Evisceration. There were so many instances where this thing looked like it was over, especially when Jamie delivered The Kingslayer. Honest to God, the way the crowd jumped when Impact kicked out of that was enough to make an artificial earthquake. This is Imp’s first Pain for Pride singles win since he defeated Rated R Shaman back in 2012 at Yankee Stadium, but this may be his biggest Pain for Pride showing since the start of this decade. Hats off, what a brilliant match.
The crowd was buzzing so much that I couldn’t even hear the interaction between HRDO and Theron Nikolas. People popped for the Ashten Cross cameo which was really nice to hear. Cross is a big reason why this entire event looks the way it does. He’s a huge part of the aesthetic behind EAW’s presentation, and is constantly innovating the way EAW rolls out its programming, so it’s important that we give the man his due.
Woogie vs Shaker was a gripping, heart-wrenching finale of a saga between two men who have been close friends and bitter rivals. I met a lot of people who were coming into this today anxious to see the results of this showdown. I personally wanted to see the Big Bhaker Bhampionship remain around the waist of the Shake-master, however it was all for naught as Woogieman would finally get revenge for his Reckless Wiring loss and leave the event as Bhampion. The crowd was super into this, with many chants of “fight forever!” with no noticeable drop off in steam following that thrilling opening contest. The crowd was also CLEARLY divided, with an even 50/50 split between who the crowd wanted to see win, as was a noticeable theme of Pain for Pride Night 4.
VERY interesting backstage moment came next, showing an apoplectic Scott Diamond confronting Cameron Ella Ava in response to the actions of Mr. DEDEDE on Night 3. For background context, Diamond was Cameron’s tag team partner as well as co-champion, and at the May 6th Showdown Supershow “Wrath of the Dragon” Scott Diamond was found unconscious right before Cam was set to defend her title against Theron Nikolas and Jack Ripley. Mr. DEDEDE sprang into action, filling in for Scott Diamond and helping Cam retain her titles, as well as become tag team champion himself for the 4th time. A developing theory among the EAW Universe had been that DDD’s replacement of Scott Diamond was “too convenient”, and that perhaps Cameron and DDD may have actually been behind the assault of Diamond the whole time. They may may have wanted to show solidarity with Theron and Ripley — but could not yet do so as long as Ripley and Theron’s main antagonist, Ronn Banks, was still in the company as an authority figure. While there is no question now that DDD has solidarity with Ripley and Theron, what we don’t yet know is where Cameron stands among all of this. This backstage confrontation was very important because it forced the audience to ask itself some important questions about this story.
Personally, I believe Cameron when she says she had nothing to do with it. Cameron has no history of being the sort of individual that would pull the “Kevin Durant” move and sell out to one of her rivals. This was the same woman who held steadfast against Project EGO back in 2012, even when she was given several options to sell out and join their team. Furthermore, even though Jack Ripley helped Cameron retain her titles on Night 2, he also gave her a square kick to the face for her troubles. The only person he didn’t seem to faze in that match was Mr. DEDEDE himself. When you read between the lines it is clear to me that DDD did in fact act on his own accord. However if you were inconspicuously assaulted from behind the way Scott Diamond was, you’re going to look for answers however you can get them. For all I know I could be wrong about this whole thing, maybe Cameron is just a good actor improvising for her own survival, but nonetheless this segment was the topic of a lot of conversation during and after the event was said and done.
The controversial CITV briefcase match came after, and this is going to be an unpopular opinion, but I was pulling for one of the veterans to win it. No, not Lucian Black. I was hoping Devan Dubian would continue his streak of signature Pain for Pride victories. This is a man still very much in his physical prime who we can trust as a long-term champion in EAW. A few years ago I declared Dub the “fantasy face of Elite Answers Wrestling”, pretty much stating if you could build the perfect champion for this company from the ground up you’d build someone like Devan Dubian. Noah Reigner came away with the win and battled back through a nasty flaming table crash to do so. Reigner earned the victory, but I’m not sold on Reigner like many of my colleagues and my readers are. He’s a transcendent talent in the ring, he performs with the grace of seasoned main eventers, he’s also money on the microphone. However, we haven’t had a CITV winner go on to become an all time great since Jamie O’Hara, and even O’Hara stumbled over the massive weight that the CITV briefcase demands its possessor to bear. Noah Reigner has been in this company for three months, and now finds himself responsible for the entire reputation of the CITV briefcase — a prize first held by wrestling legend Crude back in August of 2007, 11 years ago. That is a tall task for an EAW newcomer to bear. I would STRONGLY suggest that Reigner immediately finds council with several OGs in Elite Answers Wrestling, preferably those who have gone on propel themselves to long term success as Mr. Cash In The Vault. The Hawk’s, Jamies and Zack Crash’s would do. God bless the dead, but in times like these it would have been vital to have the likes of Extreme Enigma in any CITV winners corner, considering he has long been viewed as the preeminent example of the success winning the CITV briefcase can bring to one’s career. Nevertheless, Reigners win evoked a massive response from the audience, although the section I sat in appeared to be unhappy with the result and wanted Raven Roberts and Erebus to win. Fret not Noah, you can’t please em’ all. CITV continues to be the most divisive and controversial matches of every Pain for Pride, however the winner is given the helm to their own destiny, as they have a virtually guaranteed World Title win in the palm of their hands.
We saw a great scene with the Womens Champion Matsuda and her girlfriend Monica. Not usually fan of the sappy stuff, we saw a lot of that in recent seasons and I’m a bitter lonely old journalist who believes love is as dead as God. However I found this moment touching and intimate, and it was good for the viewers at home to see Elitists roaming about the park to get a more inside look at how expansive the Pain for Pride Festival experience truly is like. This was an endearing segment, and it made you look past the War Paint of the War Queen and see the more human side of Stephanie Matsuda who, at heart, is just a fan of wrestling like the rest of us getting to live out her dream.
Madison Kaline and Astraea Jordan *takes a deep breath* one word. Electric. This was a match that the show made me forget about, yet when you saw their graphic come up it was like a slap in the face reminder that two of EAWs future household names, one of them already a Hall of Famer, had been engaged in one of the better rivalries of the entire season. This match was everything that you could have asked for and then some. These girls took each other to hell. I’m not an individual who enjoys “blood & guts” mixed with my womens wrestling, but damn it this called for it and it’s exactly what we got. There was no loss between Madison Kaline and Astraea Jordan, and again this crowd was incredibly divided. Astraea’s cult-like following won the day however as Jordan managed to come away with the victory, but God you just got that feeling of “bloodlust” in the air from start to finish. This was the perfect example of a grudge match if I ever saw it. If you look up grudge match in the dictionary, it had better come with a picture of these two ladies.
We got an announcement that Pain for Pride next year will be taking place in Atlanta at the beautiful new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There may not be anyone more excited than I am about that. Next year’s Pain for Pride is reported being dubbed “The Mecca”, which is an apropos moniker for the new era of EAW that we are in. There is no doubt the culture has shifted in Elite Answers Wrestling, and as I’ve said before everyone at this point of the event has gotten the idea loud and clear that the “feeling” has been “restored.” People who gave up on wrestling years ago were blowing up my phone excited out of their minds about some of the stuff that went down this weekend, and something tells me EAW hosting a Pain for Pride out of a city known for being the “Culture Capital of America” is not by accident. Season 11 was one of many tribulations both out in the open and certainly behind the scenes, however Season 12 is shaping up to be a year-long victory lap that will culminate next year in Atlanta. I won’t miss it for the world.
Last but certainly not least came the headline match for the entire weekend for the biggest prize in the wrestling industry, the EAW Championship. This would mark the first time the EAW Championship has headlined a Pain for Pride since 2010 at Soldier Field in Chicago, and it could have not possibly returned under a bigger and better atmosphere.
The entrances of the match make me a tad bit emotional to even think about. I will never forget being among 200,000 people all singing the words to Nirvana anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in unison. The hairs on my neck are standing up just recalling the experience. The fireworks going off, the intensity in Cage’s eyes as he walks down that ramp with the scowl on his face, it is as if the man’s skin was 1000 degrees and electricity flowed through his veins and exited from his pores. It was like watching a tornado, a hurricane, a volcanic eruption — witnessing Diamond Cage was like witnessing a force of nature. The adrenaline rushing through Cage’s body was palpable, you could FEEL IT no matter how far into the crowd you were. Following this came out Bon Jovi, and this is the part where I get choked up about, because as a young man my late father took me to see Bon Jovi live during one of his tours back in the late 90s. Bon Jovi’s performance of “It’s My Life” was truly unforgettable, and the majority of this crowd seemed to go absolutely insane, jumping up and down and singing along to every word. Rex McAllister walked out with the EAW Championship, and it was as if he shined brighter than the title. He carried about a supernatural aura, it was a presence you had to be there to believe. You can see it on the EAW Network, but the way it came off live was just 100x more magnificent. The smirk on his face, his body language, his stage presence — this man has IT. He knew damned well that he was the best wrestler on the entire planet, and nobody else could tell him otherwise. The last time I saw something like that was Mr. DEDEDE at Pain for Pride 7, and before that it was Impact and Ronn Banks at Pain for Pride 3. There are moments few and far between where you see an icon in the flesh, and even if some may see it as too early to tell, Rex McAllister was an icon on that night.
The match began, and for the next 48 minutes these two wrestled an absolute clinic. I have this in my top 5 greatest wrestling matches in the history of Pain for Pride. Everything was crisp, every move connected, the strategy and technical aspects were sound. McAllister has more technique than most Olympic gold medalists in this sport, his technical proficiency would give Starr Stan a run for his money. Diamond Cage however found a way to adapt to the pressure McAllister put on him. A man like Cage with a volatile, smash mouth style has had moments where he’s seamlessly adapted to the 5 star technician caliber Elitists, and this was yet another night of sheer excellence from Cage. This was the wrestling match you show rookies when they first enter the EAW Performance center, because both men showed that they had the tools of what makes a great pro wrestler in this day and age. This thing went until neither guys had anything left, and in the end Diamond Cage proved he was the better man. Breathtaking festival ending theatrics capped off an epic night after Cage sealed the deal and captured his 2nd EAW Championship after a nearly four year odyssey back to the top of the mountain.
Pain for Pride Festival was the greatest sporting event and entertainment event I have ever attended. The effort put behind this show was truly something to behold, and I have no idea how EAW plans to top this event next year when they broadcast from Atlanta. I’m of the belief that they probably can’t, and I’m perfectly comfortable with Pain for Pride 11 being the pinnacle event that stands above all the rest. Still, if EAW has it in mind to create a better experience in 2019 I certainly look forward to seeing them try.
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.