This will probably be the last time that I say this, but nine months after a break from everything because of the pandemic we returned to live pro wrestling at Invictus "In Bloom". Now, just a few months later we are back at Invictus Pro Wrestling once again for "Empire Rising". Once tickets were on sale- following "In Bloom"- for this event I immediately purchased them. What's funny is, after I already had tickets for this show about twenty other shows nearby were announced and so the day which I like to think of as Stitch Day somehow turned into an unofficial live pro wrestling day.
On our way to New Jersey we hit a little bit of rain going into the state. It was really just sprinkling and we didn't feel anything heavy. The way the maps app sends us now puts us along the coastline and we see people riding their bicycles a lot and so I figured if people were still out on bicycles it couldn't be raining too badly. I was somewhat nervous though that we were almost to the show and it might be called off. Also, the directions literally took us past the road we drive down to get to the Knights of Columbus in Ridgefield Park, so I kept thinking that was our accidental destination.
It was a little bit after 2 pm (doors opened at 2) when we got the to venue and you could tell that it had rained there but it wasn't raining. While the weather is always a concern for outdoor shows, there is just something about outdoor shows that's so appealing to me. I'm not a big sports guy, but we do go to baseball a lot and that's outdoors so maybe that's why. I couldn't imagine being stuck inside watching basketball. Still, we are also 2/2 on our Invictus shows and them being outdoors and for "In Bloom" the weather was rather pleasant.
Once we got in and took seats next to Wes and his son Kyle, we went to the merch area to buy a t-shirt from and meet Janai Kai. I was confused for a moment because I thought that Yokai was on the show but then remembered it was only Yoya in a match. We also somehow found AJ Gray prior to the show starting so it was nice to meet him and talk with him for a little bit because I've seen so much of him on the tv but this was our first time seeing him wrestle in person and we knew we were in for a hell of a fight.
I really should start taking little notes about match order because I don't remember the exact order of matches on this show but when it comes to IWTV (cheap plug) the order will sort itself out. For now, this has to just go based upon how I remember things and how I remember little pieces of the matches and such.
The show opened with Phil Cardigan vs Stephen Azure and this was a fun match. The crowd was fully behind Phil Cardigan, which was great, and when Phil Cardigan had the win but Steve Somerset wouldn't make the count the crowd got mad. Then, when Steve Somerset helped Stephen Azure cheat to win and did the fast count, the crowd got even more upset. The Even Stevens are positioning themselves to be a huge heel tag team in Invictus (and all over the world) and now it just looks as if Phil Cardigan needs someone to tag with against them. I think I've seen them together on social media, so I would suggest Pinkie Sanchez.
I feel like the fourway tag team match was second simply because it rained during this match and no other match but I thought it was going to set the tone for random rain throughout the show. However, it also might have been third and I am mixing it up with the Yoya vs Ray Jaz match. Either way, I want to type about the tag team match first. I went into this match of four teams knowing (and loving) one of the teams from seeing them so much- the Kings of the District, Jordan Blade and Eel O'Neal. One team I have seen on IWTV but not in person before- Milk Chocolate. The team of PJ Savage and Dennis Morgan was interesting because Dennis Morgan was on the last Invictus show but this was my first time seeing PJ Savage. And I had just never seen The Mob Squad, as far as I remember, *but* I do believe Tony Chini was on the last Invictus show as well.
While I generally tend to dislike fourway tag team matches this one went off exceptionally well. When you have eight people in a match, it can often times feel like someone is always going to break it up and as such the match will never end. This match did a good job of everyone just beating the hell out of each other until only one team was left standing: The Kings of the District. Now, here's where wrestling gets confusing and the ideas of being a "heel" or "face" come into play and seem to be thrown out the window.
For one thing, I feel like people (like me) were cheering for KOD but some people seemed unsure as to who they were still which was strange to me. The crowd felt like they wanted to cheer for Dennis Morgan- complete with "Dangerhawk" chants- but at the same time, PJ Savage seemed to be playing the heel, especially with his post match promo. I told him he still lost and he said he didn't lose because he didn't take the pinfall but, hey, he didn't break it up either, right? He didn't win and the record books show that they lost.
On top of all of this you have Milk Chocolate who I feel like people kind of wanted to cheer for but then they also did things to make the crowd boo them so it was tough. Several times I was told by them (as were others) to stop talking to them since I kept bothering them because along with The Mob Squad they were on our side of the ring. So if you're not in the match and you'll pay attention, I'm going to bother you.
With everyone else feeling like they got mixed reactions, I will say that The Mob Squad was consistently booed. Both Tony Chini and Zack Ruby did a great job of ensuring that happened. I told them to go play in traffic because there was a road nearby but they wouldn't listen. After being beaten by Jordan Blade and Eel O'Neal I bet they wish they would have. I'll say this until it doesn't need saying anymore: There are too many ~heels~ in pro wrestling who try to be cool and still have fans. The Mob Squad is joining my short list of true heels and for that they should be booked everywhere because fans want someone to boo.
Ray Jaz vs Yoya was a good match because they have such different styles. Yoya, who I've seen on tv but this was my first time seeing in person, has submission skills, kicks and also just moves around like a cruiserweight. Ray Jaz, who I've seen floating around Twitter in name only, is thick- he reminds me of TJ Crawford a little bit for some reason. From what I gather he has an amateur background and to just think of him as this Taz-like submission specialist is pretty neat. Given time and proper guidance, Ray Jaz could be popular in a Kurt Angle sort of way. Yoya is also on his way up though, as he just gets better with every match, and I'm here for it.
Every time I think about the card I feel even more like I'm remembering it out of order, but alas, I will discuss the Vicious Vicki vs Riley Shepard championship match next. Back at "In Bloom", Vicki cheated to pick up the win in a triple threat match with Riley Shepard and Vanity. Then Vicki went on to mostly cheat her way through the Women's Championship tournament and become champion. This was a bit of retribution for Riley Shepard and the crowd was fully behind her. At one point, Riley Shepard brought Vicki over near us and had Quentin pummel her with inflatable fists and I'm really excited to see that part back on the replay.
Sometimes I think I take things too personally or I'm being oversensitive but I always feel like if I, as a wrestling fan, know something then someone who works in wrestling and gets paid by wrestling should know it as well, right? (I really had this problem when Jim Ross was doing commentary for NJPW but I digress) So how is it that in the year 2021 we still have referees who fall for the old Eddie Guerrero "I got hit by the chair" trick? This should be something that they teach you in referee school and I'm tired of seeing refs fall for it. This was how Vicki won the match and if nothing else I suppose this goes towards a No DQ between the two since Riley Shepard was technically disqualified.
Wrestling is wild because I always want to know every match before a show and then up until the day of the show it just seems like things can change. Milk Chocolate was actually a replacement on this card and when the match happened we realized that Kennedi Copeland was not there and instead the match was Molly McCoy vs Athrun Amada. The strange thing about this was that it was not a street fight, but at one point Molly McCoy did make reference to that, saying something like "I thought this was supposed to be a street fight". Athrun Amada did really well and I'd like to see him on more shows but Molly McCoy was really just over with the fans here.
After intermission we went into the final four matches and it was interesting that other than the fourway tag match there wasn't really any rain for the rest of the show. I really don't remember most of this order so this is me trying my best to remember.
Gio Galvano vs Mike Verna was an interesting match because you had someone who the crowd seemed to be fully behind in Gio but then also Mike Verna is well respected and typically liked. Whenever I think of Mike Verna (who I have seen in other matches live besides) I think of the two matches he's had- in Northeast Wrestling and Chaotic Wrestling- vs Brian Pillman Jr. I was live for both of them and do not believe they've done the rubber match yet. But I like Mike Verna. We have that history of me watching his matches. And Gio is someone I only saw for the first time at the last Invictus show and then again at Global Syndicate Wrestling.
Now, let's talk about the importance of a manager. Jared Silberkleit, who runs the Trust Fund stable, is backing Mike Verna in this match and that makes people want to boo him-- not so much to boo Verna, but to boo Jared and then sort of boo Verna by association. And, for me, I just haven't seen enough of Gio to be impressed by him and cheer for him so I just want to cheer Mike Verna. Maybe Gio just needs some matches against the pure heels for me to get on his side but even then it's hard to find someone I will constantly boo.
Personalities aside, this was a great wrestling match. Regardless of whether you want to cheer, boo or are just unsure what to do, this match delivered between those ropes and when it spilled to the outside. Even with the ending and after the fact, I think this match really stood out as one of my favorites on the card because move for move it was up there among the best of the day, but that conflict, that drama of the characters is a lot of what wrestling is missing right now and I love it so very much.
In what was a huge tag team match, the Meat Locker took on the team of Mucho Chris Moljo and El Oso Blanco. There is a lot to dissect in this match. First off, Wrecking Ball Legursky and Adam Payne are just huge fan favorites. Between here, Magic, GSW-- everywhere I see them they just get cheered, chants and the crowd is just always so strongly behind them. Lots of "Meat! Meat! Meat!" chants on this day.
Then you add El Oso Blanco, the former (?) Meadowlands Monster into the match. If you have not seen El Oso Blanco before, take this match as your opportunity to do so. Wrestling needs more larger than life characters who can get it done inside the ring and you're looking at one right here. And, if we're being completely and brutally honest here, El Oso Blanco is also the rightful Pro Wrestling Magic Champion as Erica Leigh technically never beat him for that belt. If I was Erica Leigh I'd sleep with one eye open because of Smiley and the other because of El Oso Blanco.
Mucho Chris Moljo is a heel I like to boo but there are a small part of the crowd wearing shirts to support him. Since my parents basement is finally dry and I could back to sleeping on my futon I'm not as mad at MCM so I will allow these fans to cheer for him without questioning why. But if you remember from back at "In Bloom", MCM hit Wrecking Ball Legursky with that briefcase he defaced to give "Big Trouble" Ben Bishop the win. So MCM had a little of payback coming here and I liked seeing it happen.
With some of the fans on the side of MCM and even my conflicting feelings toward El Oso Blanco, this was still a solid match of Meat Locker being the good guys vs MCM/El Oso Blanco being the heels. The Meat Locker also may have scored the win here, but there is still unfinished business between Wrecking Ball Legursky and Ben Bishop. That will be settled one day for sure because, well, all will fall to Wrecking Ball.
Big Game Leroy defended his Social Media Championship against Big Callux and this was a match of the BIG. One of the things which I love most about pro wrestling and Invictus is that we are hopefully long gone from the days of going to a wrestling show because you want to see someone (in this case we'll say Big Game Leroy) and then the opponent is someone you either don't want to see or just don't care about. I really like Big Callux. We've seen him live pre-pandemic twice and so it was good to see him live and in big person again. You don't truly appreciate how big he is until you see him in person.
But if you ask me whether or not Big Callux can be defined as a face or a heel... I don't know. He's just big. You can follow him on social media (as I do) and watch him during his matches and then determine for yourself whether or not you like him, but he doesn't really do anything to be booed and I feel like he does more to be cheered than anything else. So this big match also felt like a dream match of two fan favorites going at it and while someone who is a heel (such as MCM) could face Big Game Leroy with different results from the crowd, I don't mind seeing two wrestlers I love fight each other because that seems to make the best matches. Also, if you're not watching Big Game Leroy matches yet you need to start now.
After all of this action, the main event still saw AJ Gray vs Jacob Fatu. I have to get used to seeing Jacob Fatu outside of MLW-- it's still weird to me to think about the possibility of him coming to a promotion and just destroying everyone. This match also filled me with much conflict because I love AJ Gray but I also love Jacob Fatu. Neither of these wrestlers really did anything to make them seem like a heel and I feel like the crowd was on the side of both of them. There really was an atmosphere not of wanting one to win over the other- not a heel vs face scenario- but rather just a celebration that we, as the fans, knew we were experiencing something special. And we were. If you don't go out of your way to watch AJ Gray vs Jacob Fatu I will question your wrestling interests.
I don't want to give too much of the match away but at one point they were outside of the ring on the side adjacent to my right. Jacob Fatu wears this black bead-type necklace and AJ Gray chopped him so hard outside the ring that one of those black beads came flying off of Jacob Fatu and landed near the kids right next to me. You can choose to be impressed by whether it went as far as it did or just the fact that it came off in the first place, but wow these two beat each other up, hit a lot of wrestling moves and just delivered one of my favorite matches I've seen this year. This match really only used one weapon (a door) but it was as violent as matches that I've seen that are full of matches.
This was the second Invictus Pro Wrestling show in a row now where I just felt like the main event was Match of the Year quality (along with some of the other matches on the card) and also the show just goes by so quickly. If you look at it on paper, I would say the start time was around 3pm, there was a fifteen minute intermission and then it ended around 6pm. The actual time will be on IWTV but even if you say this was nine matches over two and a half to three hours, it didn't feel that long. There were five matches alone before intermission and I did not feel like we had just sat through nine matches (and they weren't short squash matches either) But they say time flies when you're having fun and Invictus Pro Wrestling certainly is a whole lot of fun.