Our man in the NYC wrestling crowds filed this report from MLW’s Opera Cup tapings, which included two surprise appearances.
When we talk about how there’s too much pro wrestling, what we’re often forgetting to mention is how it’s a shame that promotions like MLW don’t get enough attention for putting on good shows with great talent.
And why does MLW get lost in the shuffle? Well, you don’t know what channel beIN Sports is, or if you get it, and longform is nobody’s preferred kind of YouTube content. Airing on Saturday, when we’re all looking for a break after a crowded week (hell, I barely ever watch SmackDown live anymore).
So, I attended MLW’s most recent batch of tapings, which centered around an 8-man singles competition for the Opera Cup. And I went in knowing (based on attending multiple MLW shows at the same venue) that it would be a long night. Yes, as one wrestling podcast I listen to put it, yeah, MLW tapings are long and it hurts the crowd enthusiasm.
But there was a lot to like here, and so for those trying to avoid spoilers, here’s a quick list of the matches and segments you should try to see. If you want to know what I didn’t like, well, dive through my below report.
What I loved
- All Opera Cup tournament matches
- Myron Reed vs El Lindaman
- The Injustice segments
- Prince of Darkness match
- Contra vs Strong Hearts
While this will have some spoilers, I’m not going to discuss wins and losses. Of course, for the Opera Cup quarterfinals and semifinals, you’ll be able to guess who advanced by the matches that came next.
Dark Match: “The Maverick” Chris Calloway vs Dr. Dax
A younger BikerTaker vs an off-brand Abyss. Got the tired crowd to make some noise, good enough for what it needed to be.
Opera Cup quarter-final match: TJP vs Brian Pillman Jr.
Of all the things I expect to see at a pro wrestling show, this is up there as the most unlikely. TJP aka TJ Perrrrrkins (shouts to PAC), got cheers as he entered the Melrose Ballroom. Practically a hero’s welcome. In 2019? Really? We’re cheering this dude? I mean, the NJPW at Hammerstein crowd didn’t but I guess things are different here.
The match was relatively slow and methodical, with both men maintaining control early and often. I was a bit caught off guard by the pace until I realized that this could be seen as both men trying to not over-exert themselves. A face-vs-face dynamic stays throughout the match as I just felt puzzled.
Opera Cup quarter-final match: Low Ki vs Davey Boy Smith, Jr.
One of my picks for the evening in terms of what to watch when it airs live, these two had excellent chemistry and both get the little things so very right. First off, though, I’ll say thank god this wasn’t the kind of squash match Mr. Ki’s had recently (RIP Jimmy Yuta).
If you pay attention to DBS Jr. as he moves in and out of the ring, and notice how Low Ki’s double-stomp manages to navigate the ropes, you’ll start thinking about why these two aren’t bigger names. Low Ki’s rolling Pele kick alone had me scribbling into my notepad.
Opera Cup quarter-final match: Timothy Thatcher vs Richard Holliday
I don’t have much written down for this match, because it kicked ass. Just watch it.
Pairing Thatcher’s no-nonsense brutality with the super-smug Holliday, who walks around looking airbrushed, is just a great move.
Opera Cup quarter-final match: MJF vs Alexander Hammerstone
I don’t think I laughed louder all night than during this match’s opening. I didn’t go into this bout as a huge fan of either man, but I left a bit more positive on both. A big theme for the evening’s tapings was that Hammerstone, a member of The Dynasty (alongside MJF and Holliday) is seemingly on the verge of leaving those goons behind.
Even the ref got a moment to shine in this match. While this was a heel-heel match, it worked because people will always hate MJEFF more. Holliday, to his credit, shined as a ringside douchebag, by wearing his AirPods the whole time. He doesn’t even know how to spell their name properly, as he calls himself “The Air Pod God.”
Shoutout to the fan who yelled “you’re a Tyler Durden wannabe” at Hammerstone.
”Filthy” Tom Lawlor vs Rip Von Erich
The story is simple, once-beloved babyface “Filthy” Tom Lawlor betrayed the two young Von Erichs that MLW signed at a previous MLW event. Tom’s out to a chorus of boos, because when this crowd is given a directive about who to cheer and who to boo, they obey.
Lawlor questions the legitimacy of these two actually being Von Erichs, and says he’s gonna face this Von Erich... and out comes a scrawny little shit named Rip Von Erich, who seems to be illegitimate himself. Shockingly, this is not a squash match.
Here’s where my relatively young age and lack of interest in the history of this sport might be hurting my ability to be interested. I’ve read David Shoemaker’s writing about the Von Erich clan, but I’ve never ever had any interest in the name or the people.
That might make me willfully ignorant, I don’t know. But this match, and the later Von Erichs match, didn’t give me anything to be interested in them, other than that they’re all supposedly Von Erichs.
And out come The Spirit— I mean Ken Doane and Mike Mondo. Because that’s the rest of Team Filthy. I guess this is one way to get people to hate the naturally charismatic Lawlor. That’s going to be tough, as Lawlor’s always great, even when insulting the crowd (when the cheers called him “asshole!” he replied that he doesn’t “care what your breath smells like.”
MLW World’s Middleweight Champion Myron Reed vs El Lindaman
Lindaman is one of my favorite wrestlers I’ve barely ever seen live, and this evening helped cement his stock for me. Reed, an always capable worker in the ring, has become utterly insufferable (in a good way) with his Injustice stablemates Kotto Brazil and Jordan Oliver (he’s one to watch for).
Beset on all sides, thanks to interference from the outside, Lindaman displayed strong fighting spirit, coming back repeatedly after his momentum kept getting curbed. His highlight, though, has to be a crazy snug-looking dropkick to the back of Reed’s head and neck.
Injustice can be funny too, and a surprise appearance
First, a promo video with Reed, Oliver and Brazil (presented in black and white, almost like security camera footage), hanging out outside in this downright chilly NYC. Laughs arrive in the form of Jordan Oliver clowning himself by not getting the basics about rap from yesteryear and today.
Then, out come the trio, back to the ring, to jawjack a little bit, and cut a shoot-ish promo about how the mostly white investors in the back don’t like them. Then, former MMA fighter King Mo’s entrance video hits, and he walks to the ring, crown and all. Injustice are not amused, but have the clear numbers advantage until...
ACH arrived in MLW. It was a really cool surprise (though his retirement from pro wrestling, announced days later, took the air out of that), and probably the biggest moment of the night. Interestingly, they spend a long, pregnant pause teasing ACH joining Injustice, which wouldn’t be so crazy considering how all four argue against flawed systems. Except that would be a very bad look, as the Injustice boys are heels and you’d probably want to make ACH look like a good guy. So, ACH and King Mo tag against Oliver and Brazil. You can probably guess how that goes.
After the match, ACH stands up, draws some letters in the air (I can’t make out which from my angle) and then flips off Maxwell Jacob Friedman who was at commentary— which is highly relatable.
Opera Cup semi-final matches: Davey Boy Smith, Jr. vs Alexander Hammerstone; Brian Pillman Jr. vs Timothy Thatcher
Both of these matches are good. Pacing still felt methodical, as if each man is saving something for the finals if they make it that far. If all 7 Opera Cup matches are presented on the same episode of Fusion, this could all work. Otherwise, I’ve got doubts.
Konnan brings us back in time, politically
In the following segment, Konnan — who is greeted as a beloved figure to the audience — is supposed to be the good guy. He’s out here to introduce his new top prospect, The Untouchable Gino Medina.
Except that they’re interrupted by Promociones Dorado head honcho Salina de La Renta, who Konnan derides by calling her a rat. Which, in 2019, is definitely on the wrong side of things, and regressive as hell. Dialogue suggests Salina and Gino have been hooking up, but that’s aside from the matter.
And then Konnan goes even worse as The Dynasty comes out. We’re supposed to hate these guys, and so some fans cheer as Konnan calls Hammerstone a twink on human growth hormones, makes a sexual surgery joke at Richard Holliday. Maybe I’m asking too much, for non-problematic jokes from a babyface working in a liberal hotbed such as New York City, but who knows.
Then Gino and The Dynasty turn face in my eyes, and beat up Konnan. Of course, this is all supposed to be heelish behavior, but this is the shtick that Konnan used to excess in Impact, dragging down LAX into blah storylines there too.
Team Filthy (Doane and Mondo) vs The Aloha Von Erichs
There’s really not much to say about this. As I said, I wish these Von Erichs worked for me, they do not. Doane’s proven a good despicable shit at Beyond, and felt like the strongest talent in the ring
Prince of Darkness match brings Goth Family Reunion
If ACH’s return was the 1A moment of the night (not match of the night, mind you), this match gave me my 1B moment of the evening. First of all, you’ve got Jimmy Havoc vs Mance Warner in a blindfolded match, with is some great comedy. Mancer, by kinda playing Marco Polo, managed to be charismatic even though he kept his mask on — Havoc, who was cheating, did not.
And then, we got a surprise run-in from one of the wrestlers whose presence has been deeply missed in New York: Priscilla Kelly.
PK, an Evolve staple for years, popped back up on MLW Fusion on Nov. 23, as a threat in the company’s newly growing women’s division. Here, though, she reuniting with her former goth gang buddy Jimmy Havoc, and I popped huge.
Savio Vega vs Gino Medina in a NYC Street Fight
For all the hype about Gino Medina, with video packages throughout the show and all the fuss over which faction he’ll join, this match left me scratching my head. The hardcore rules of it all made it a brawl, and, this was right around the time the crowd really took a dive in enthusiasm. I hope commentary gets the story over, because the audience didn’t.
Contra (Jacob Fatu, Simon Grimm, and Josef Samael) vs Strong Hearts (CIMA, El Lindaman, and Shigehiro Irie)
MLW World Heavyweight Champion Jacob Fatu did his best to get the crowd hyped at the start of the match, but at 10:26 p.m., 3.5 hours into the tapings, I don’t know what could be done to bring the audience to a fervor. Of course, I wanted to be more energetic — this was my first time seeing Irie live, and that guy is amazing — but while they got small pops from the crazy shit that the champ, Lindaman and Irie did, they never got the responses they deserved.
Highlights included Irie piledriving Samael onto Gotch, Fatu doing crazy springboard things, and Lindaman flying out of the ring, but landing perfectly in spots that had nearly zero room for error.
Opera Cup finale: Davey Boy Smith, Jr. vs Brian Pillman Jr.
A definite match of the night contender. Why I didn’t see this one coming a mile away is ... wait, I did — in my preview I had both of these guys as my picks to win it all. Of course I was crestfallen that Thatcher didn’t make it to the finals, but he’s seemingly more of a freelancer than An MLW Guy.
These two make all the sense in the world for a finals, as they’re super familiar with each other thanks to working together as The New Hart Foundation. Related: someone claimed to have seen their now-former-stablemate Teddy Hart, who MLW later released, at that show. He did not perform.
But yeah, this match is great, and ends in surprising manner. Both guys, however, came out of this looking great.
The great thing about MLW is that they nail variety. Which I guess you have to when you tape a month’s worth of shows in the same night. From the great technical matches of the Opera Cup themselves to the insanity of Strong Hearts vs Contra Unit to the bonkers weirdness of the Prince of Darkness match to great shock moments from ACH and PK, this night had a lot to love. I just don’t get Konnan as a face in 2019. It just doesn’t work. Aside from that, MLW’s Opera Cup tapings proved to be a good night of graps, though I wish they didn’t run on Thursdays, as work-night wrestling isn’t optimal for anymore.
Still, if you have a chance to make it out to an MLW taping, I say go. You’ll see some familiar faces and probably learn some new ones too.