Every year, the world’s major wrestling promotions have one event that defines their entire year, as well as the promotion itself. Whether it’s WWE‘s Wrestlemania or NJPW‘s Wrestle Kingdom, or CHIKARA‘s King of Trios or Lucha Underground‘s Ultima Lucha, they all use these events to showcase the very best they have to offer, as a promotion and roster. But perhaps one of the most exciting supercards of the year in 2016 is the one coming from Los Angeles’ Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) and their annual indie tournament, Battle of Los Angeles.
PWG was one of many promotions founded around 2003, following the demise of WCW and ECW as serious competition against the corporate machine of WWE. A year prior to PWG’s creation, TNA, Ring of Honor and CHIKARA all rose up from the vacuum of pro wrestling options to offer larger platforms for indie talent to gestate and nurture the international breeding grounds of independent professional wrestling. Founded by a group of indie wrestlers – Disco Machine, Excalibur, Scott Lost, Top Gun Talwar, Super Dragon and current indie darling Joey Ryan – PWG soon became a destination for the best of the best for those not signed to WWE or the rising TNA. It’s close working relationships with Ring of Honor and many other top independent promotions, not just in the United States and Canada, but Mexico, Japan and Europe, helped make PWG the mecca for the true integration of independent wrestling. The main event of it’s first event in 2003 featured the very first meeting between WWE Superstars AJ Styles and Samoa Joe.
In 2005, only two years after it’s inception, PWG introduced the world to the Battle of Los Angeles. The idea was simple. Take sixteen of the world’s top indie wrestlers and put them in a single elimination tournament to crown the victor. Over the years, BOLA winners have included some of the best wrestlers of this generation: Sami Zayn (2011), Kenny Omega (2009), current ROH World Champion Adam Cole (2012), Ricochet (2014), Joey Ryan (2010) and last year’s winner, Zack Sabre Jr. The list of participants is a who’s who of some of the elite wrestlers of the past 15 years, such as Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, new WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens, Austin Aries, Seth Rollins, Chris Sabin, Nigel McGuinness, Cesaro, Brian Cage, Drew Galloway, and the Young Bucks. To compete in PWG’s annual BOLA event meant you were destined for greatness.
This year’s BOLA happens this coming weekend, and it’s arguably the strongest class they’ve fielded yet, and perhaps the best collection of indie wrestlers in one event that the wrestling world has seen in a long time. Here’s a look at the opening round matchups for this year’s BOLA.
FENIX vs WILL OSPREAY
Two of the world’s most explosive high flyers meet up in what should be one of the most jaw dropping matches of the whole weekend. Fenix has been an absolute sensation as part of Lucha Underground, not to mention his work in AAA. And Will Ospreay is one of the most coveted wrestlers on the planet right now. His Twitter feud with Vader was one of 2016’s viral stories of the year (which resulted in a match at Revolution Pro last month), and his work in NJPW, WCPW and various UK indies has made him one of the internet’s most watched performers. It’s no wonder Evolve is hungry to acquire his North American booking.
KYLE O’REILLY vs MATTHEW RIDDLE
Kyle O’Reilly has been a stud in Ring of Honor and NJPW that past few years as one half of reDragon, arguably one of the world’s top tag team combinations alongside Bobby Fish. He’s been taking singles matches with more prevalence of late and his first round meeting is with a relative newcomer to the world of pro wrestling, but by no means a rookie to the combat ring. Matthew Riddle is a former UFC star who left the MMA world in 2014 to pursue a career in pro wrestling. He’s been a standout with Evolve this year (his match with Cedric Alexander earlier this year was outstanding) and rumours are rampant that he’s headed to NXT for the September class.
DALTON CASTLE vs JACK GALLAGHER
This has the recipe to be the most entertaining match of the first round. It won’t have the high spots as many of the others, but the charisma of these two men is nearly unmatched. Dalton Castle is perhaps one of Ring of Honor’s best characters of the past two years and his charisma is matched only by his freakish strength for a man of his stature. He faces English-style grappler Jack Gallagher, who was a standout in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic as well as from his work in many of the UK indies. A clash of two entertaining yet witty styles – think if Robin Williams and Graham Chapman from Monty Python wrote a skit about wrestling – this will be a match that deserved multiple viewings.
CHRIS HERO vs JUSHIN ‘THUNDER’ LIGER
A lot of history in this one. On one hand you have an indie wrestling icon. Chris Hero was one half of arguably the greatest tag team of the mid-2000’s, Kings of Wrestling, alongside current WWE Superstar, Cesaro. Originally formed in CHIKARA in 2005, they went on to dominate indie tag team divisions around North America, as 2-time ROH World Tag Team Champions, 2-time CZW World Tag Team Champions, as well as reigns in PWG, Juggalo Championship Wrestling, and CHIKARA. They both joined NXT in 2011 and became two very different stories. Cesaro stole the show in NXT and made main roster quickly, but Hero floundered, getting future endeavoured in 2013. In bad shape and seemingly disenchanted with the industry, he had a phoenix like rise as a singles wrestler in the indies, becoming one of the best ring generals in the game. On the other hand, it’s not just a Japanese legend, but a wrestling icon. If anyone created a “cruiserweight” division in wrestling, it was Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. He introduced a combination of Japanese style and lucha libre that created the blue print of much of the indie style wrestling that would become the norm in the 2000’s. A CMLL Universal Champion, an astonishing 11-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion in NJPW, 2-time NWA Junior Heavyweight Champion, plus reigns as WCW Cruiserweight Champion and WWF Light Heavyweight Champion (before the belt was televised on North American programming), Liger is Mt. Rushmore worthy for professional wrestling. This will be a thing of beauty.
MARK ANDREWS vs PETE DUNNE
Entering his second straight BOLA, England’s Mark Andrews has quietly become one of the UK’s most successful indie performers in North America the past few years. A long time favourite in both CHIKARA and his home country’s Progress, Andrews joined TNA last year and has been an entertaining opening card talent for the past year. Pete Dunne is a solid and classic case of the UK scene’s most successful heel formula, with a reign as Progress’ British Cruiserweight Champion. He was a loss away from qualifying for the WWE Cruiserweight Classic (against fellow BOLA participant Jack Gallagher) and recently came to Vader’s aid in RevPro in the Mastadon’s win over Will Ospreay last month.
JOHN HENNIGAN vs MATT SYDAL
Many questioned John Hennigan’s decision to leave the WWE in 2011 at the seeming height of his popularity as John Morrison. But he’s proven everyone wrong. While his first few years were marred with inconsistent appearances and some questionable B-Movies, his arrival at Lucha Underground showed the world the true main event of John Morrison, in the form of Johnny Mundo. His work with LU, and subsequently in Mexico with AAA, has shown that it’s now a clearly a case of WWE waiting for Hennigan to call and not the other way around. Matt Sydal is like the opposite of Hennigan in nearly every way. While Hennigan was WWE grown from Tough Enough, Sydal was an indie sensation in Ring of Honor who cut his teeth alongside Seth Rollins, CM Punk, and AJ Styles. He joined WWE in 2007 and became Evan Bourne, but never seemed to rise above the lower card. A series of bad luck with injuries that robbed years from his career, led to his release in 2014. He returned to the indies with a vengeance and since become a tag team sensationalist alongside Ricochet, as a 2-time IWGP Junior Tag Team Champion, as well as winning NJPW’s NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship (with Satoshi Kojima) and the 2015 Super Jr. Tag Tournament. These two former WWE team mates now meet up on the indie grandstand to show the world what Stamford missed out on.
KAMAITACHI vs TREVOR LEE
One of the underdog matchups of the opening round, features Japanese cult favourite Kamaitachi, a product of NJPW who has spent the past four years in Mexico with the world’s oldest wrestling promotion CMLL, where he captured the CMLL World Lightweight Championship. He’s recently made the move to the United States, recently debuting in Ring of Honor. It’s a huge opportunity to explode in the North American indie scene by making his BOLA debut within his first few months in the country. A graduate of the OMEGA camp of Matt & Jeff Hardy and Gregory “Hurricane” Helms, Trevor Lee has been a PWG mainstay since 2014, where he won the PWG World Tag Team Championship with Andrew Everett. He’s been an X-Division standout in TNA the past year, where he’s held the X-Division title and Tag Titles (alongside recent WWE returnee, Curt Hawkins). Kamaitchi is a sensation to some, but still unknown to many, and Lee is just finding his true national recognition. A solid outing from these two could turn a lot of heads.
JEFF COBB vs RICOCHET
If this was in Lucha Underground, it would be billed as Matanzas vs. Prince Puma, but these two guys both have made names under these monikers long before becoming faces of Lucha Underground. Jeff Cobb is even more impressive under his real name than he is as the monster Matanzas. While still possessing the brutality seen in LU, he displays far more athleticism in this persona than a man his size should possess. Which will be an interesting pairing with Ricochet, as he’ll be one of the first strongmen that he’s faced who has even remotely a shot of keeping up with Ricochet. And what more can you say about Ricochet that doesn’t become overkill? Everything you’ve heard about him? They’re all right.
CEDRIC ALEXANDER vs MARK HASKINS
Perhaps one of the greatest stories out of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic (sorry, Brian Kendrick), was the moment directly following the Second Round match-up between Cedric Alexander and Japanese all-star Kota Ibushi. The crowd exploded for Alexander with a thunderous ovation that brought tears to his eyes, followed by an impromptu hug and arm raising by Triple H. It was recently announced he’d be debuting on Raw in three weeks for the new Cruiserweight division. His run in Evolve this year was outstanding. A long time product of Ring of Honor, few have had the year Cedric Alexander has. Mark Haskins is probably one of the lesser known names in the tourney, but he’s no slouch of his own. Another UK standout, Haskins has had a solid career in England since 2006, and spent a few years in Ultimo Dragon‘s Dragon Gate in Japan. This is Haskins’ BOLA debut.
MARTY SCURLL vs PENTAGON JR
If Zack Sabre Jr. is the Superman of British wrestling right now, then “The Villain” Marty Scurll is his Lex Luthor. A former friend when he was “Party Marty”, he’s now created his masterpiece as the brilliant piece of theatre known as “The Villain”. He’s dominating a ripe UK scene, as a 2-time World Champion in both Revolution Pro and Progress (where he currently still holds court), and has recently turned his eyes on North America, working with Evolve, PWG and soon to debut with Ring of Honor. Pentagon Jr. is perhaps the greatest “cool” heel character of the past few years. His AAA and other indie work has always been great, but his character development in Lucha Underground has made him a legend. A mesmerizing and stunning look, a ferocity of realness in his promo delivery (and proof that you don’t need to speak English to move an audience), and a wrestling style better suited for the Original ECW than the WWE Universe, Pentagon Jr. is the new face of Lucha Underground and one of the most complete characters in wrestling in the world right now.
CODY RHODES vs SAMI CALLIHAN
A tale of two WWE Superstars who left the company disenchanted and underutilized. One is the son of a son of a plumber and the other one son of a bitch. Cody Rhodes made trending headlines when he announced his request and subsequent release from the WWE after a seemingly successful 10-year career. But Cody wanted more and was determined to wrestle the best and make his own Bucket List for 2016. BOLA was on his List and it was probably a given he would achieve that. He will do so against indie cult phenom Sami Callihan, a charismatic underground gutter kid who had also requested his release from the WWE Universe following an unsatisfying run in NXT as Solomon Crowe. Similarly to the Hennigan vs. Sydal match, these two are going to secretly be hoping the WWE eyes are watching to show the them all the match that could have been on their Network.
TOMMY END vs ZACK SABRE JR
Two guys currently regarded as the elite in the world of international pro wrestling, this will be a parting of these two competing against each other. The Netherlands’ Tommy End is wrapping up a successful run throughout Europe, with stints in the UK’s Progress and RevPro, Germany’s wXw and Scotland’s ICW, as well in North America with CZW, PWG and Evolve. But like a few of this tournament’s participants, they’ll be heading to NXT in the coming months, so this is likely his last BOLA for some time. He’s facing current WWE Cruiserweight Classic competitor and British wunderkid Zack Sabre Jr., a gangly technical wizard that many put in the Top 3 in the world right now. A legend in Europe at the age of 29, he’s won Heavyweight Championships in RevPro and wXw and taken the Wrestling Observer Best Technical Wrestler Award the past two years. And he’s no stranger to PWG either – he won the 2015 BOLA and is the current defending PWG World Heavyweight Champion.
(Main Photo: prowrestlingguerrilla.com)