A trip to Atlantic City for Bloodsport 2 reminded us why a shoot fight pro wrestling promotion should be a more-regular thing.
This past Saturday, I spent about five-and-a-half hours on Greyhound buses to watch GCW’s latest MMA/pro wrestling hybrid show, and it was worth it. That’s how well Josh Barnett - whose name was on the marquee for the second time - has figured this whole Bloodsport thing out. And the former UFC & Japanese wrestling star did it without the biggest name that was supposed to be on the card.
It all left one strong impression upon me: Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport should be a regular thing.
I’m not sure how often it should be, there’s a certain perk to it feeling different. But we gotta talk about what they get right.
The American indie scene has nothing like Bloodsport
Shoot-style pro wrestling isn’t a regular thing over here. Before Matt Ridde’s Bloodsport in 2018, I’d only seen one no-ropes wrestling match before, and it was in an unlikely place. At Evolve 72, champ Timothy Thatcher (backed by Stokely Hathaway) defended his title against Drew Gulak in a The Squared Circle of Survival match, which is a long way of saying “no ropes.”
But even in that aforementioned Evolve match, though, the style was more pro wrestling. The apron, the mat and the pad would soon disappear. It was great (I would later rave about it to Gulak on Bourbon street) but it still felt more like Evolve than the octagon.
Also, that was just one match on a card of standard pro wrestling. When you get a full card of shoot-style matches you get a wild amount of variance. Bloodsport 2 matches ranged so much that you got a great amount of unpredictability, which is the overall positive about this style of pro wrestling. You get weird little things, like wrestlers throwing each around near the ring posts, which are just exposed metal beams with little notches. They all look like accidents waiting to happen.
I’m more than OK with losing some novelty in exchange for wrestlers gaining more familiarity in this style, and developing feuds. In promotional speeches before and during the show, Barnett positioned Bloodsport as more about the fight than the art, and I take that to mean (I might be wrong) that they’re not going to embrace the theatrical side of pro wrestling, but instead focus on the fight.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have rematches and promos, though, especially when you book strong personalities, such as Nick [Fuckin’] Gage. When Gage apparently passed out in Killer Kross’ chokehold, he went from a middle finger raised defiantly to his gang signs to ... being a limp body. Instantly, I remembered Austin, bloodied, passing out in the sharpshooter, and not submitting at WrestleMania 13. Not sure when these two will go again, but Gage’s reaction after the match definitely set up a return match.
I’m not going to call out which matches I thought didn’t click as much as I wanted them to (who am I, a dweeb, to criticize these badasses on their wrestling in a format that they don’t often work) but I think many could look at Anthony Henry vs Zachary Wentz or Davey Boy Smith, Jr. vs “Filthy” Tom Lawlor to learn some things.
The more wrestlers get a chance to do these sorts of matches, the more familiarity they’ll get with the format. Then, maybe, we see experimentation with the template, and it grows.
Over in the UK, the wXw Ambition shows have whetted the appetites of many, while the Tetsujin Hybrid Wrestling shows have been a rare experience that are always must-watch when they hit video on demand. Maybe the infrequency is intentional everywhere, but the more opportunities fans have to watch these shows the more they could catch (as catch can) on.
Barnett’s earned the role and should run with it
A name in the MMA world (ask Shayna Baszler), Josh Barnett took over Bloodsport after its original marquee name Matt Riddle arrived at the WWE Performance Center.
Barnett’s more than done his part to take over, shaking up the roster with completely unexpected names. Did you know who Anthony Carelli was before Bloodsport 2? Did you ever expect to see him (he’s Santino by the way) work a shoot/MMA style? I did not.
Also, Barnett’s show started off with a neat little moment. Before the first main card match, the majority of the wrestlers were announced and walked to the ring, split by who was fighting who, on either side.
Random aside: not as many wrestlers on the show had corner men or women this time, though, a little touch from previous editions that I’d like to see back.
I don’t know where Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport 3 will be, but I hope it’s back east again. That’s because Barnett told the audience that he and Jon Moxley still plan to go to war in that rope-less ring. Barnett also asked that fans make sure to hold AEW accountable (with criticism) if there’s any trouble, saying nobody but those suits could get in the way.
And, yes, I hope Bloodsport runs during the winter of 2019/2020. The format is too distinct and the buzz is too strong to let things die down. And, yes, if this series continues to gain traction and notoriety — maybe plays a larger venue — that might increase the likelihood of Dave Bautista answering Killer Kross’ challenge to meet him in the ropeless ring.
Wherever and whenever it happens, I’ll be paying attention — especially if Barnett has the book.
Bloodsport 2 is available via video on demand on Fite.