By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
For the fifth time in less than a month, I set out on that viciously crowded highway known as I-95 and zipped up to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for some wrestling this past weekend. The venue was the 2300 Arena and the occasion was the MLW War Chamber tapings.
You may have already known this if you had checked out the spoilers on the main page by now. I’ll do my best to stay away from the majority of results here (though I apologize in advance for inevitably giving one or two things away, I’m sure), but if there’s only one rule about attending TV tapings on behalf of Pro Wrestling Dot Net, that rule is, “Well, write a column about it, damn it.”
Not really. But I certainly felt compelled to as I returned to Maryland late Saturday night/Sunday morning. So, let’s get to it, with the good receiving the spotlight first.
The biggest takeaway for me from all of Saturday is something I already alluded to on Twitter (follow me @McGMondays!) as I stood around the pre-match media scrum during the afternoon hours: Jacob Fatu is perhaps the most charming man alive. And not just that, mind you; Jacob Fatu is very, very good at talking to the media.
There was a realness to him that is hard to find when talking to anyone of stature — a famous athlete, musician, actor, celebrity, etc. — and on top of that, he seemed to be so aware of everything around him that you couldn’t help but root for him as a person outside of any character he portrays on TV.
He also wasn’t someone I expected to see. At the Fightland tapings in October, they gave us Richard Holliday, Myron Reed and Alex Hammerstone — all fine enough talents in their own right. But for some reason, even back then, I remember thinking, “There’s no way Fatu would do something like this, right? They’re protecting that character too much, and he’s too much of a bad ass.”
Fast-forward a month and while I’m sitting down, expecting EJ Nduka to walk out, some guy dressed in black from head to toe, carrying a gallon of Wawa water with him, appears and he’s ready to talk. I was so surprised, I had to do a double take before I walked over to where the interviews were taking place.
And while he sells the shit out of that character on television and he sure comes across as a force to be reckoned with, he’s so warm and inviting when he speaks outside of the ring. His answers were thoughtful, he instantly took any tension out of any interaction he had because of how disarming he was, and he didn’t just give some typical pro-athlete fare when he spoke, nor did he insist on keeping kayfabe like some of the other talent that appeared.
It was refreshing. And while I have no idea about contract status or the state of MLW as a whole, I can say that Fatu repeatedly expressed excitement for the new year — so much so that I continue to wonder if something is in the works. With all due respect to MLW, I have no idea how or why that guy isn’t on a bigger stage each week. Yeah, I’ve read about some past history that isn’t great, but if you’re WWE and you’re going to keep the Bloodline around for the next few years, you could do a lot worse than adding him into the fold.
But all of that speaks to Jacob Fatu, the person. As for how Jacob Fatu, the wrestler, fared …
ALL CHAMBER, LITTLE WAR
… Not that great.
And I don’t say that in the sense that Contra lost to Team Hammerstone. Nor do I say that in the sense that Mads Krügger and Fatu brawled after the match, ostensibly meaning that either Contra Unit is over or someone’s going to be working as a babyface moving forward. I also don’t say it in the sense that Fatu took a kendo stick to the head from Savio Vega.
Instead, I say it in the sense that this War Chamber wasn’t exactly the best War Chamber an MLW fan could find. While the match got off to a hot start — Fatu squared up against Jeff Cobb, the surprise entrant that was not a surprise — it ended on the complete opposite end of that spectrum. The finish was so flat that the overwhelming feeling throughout the arena was a bit of confusion before switching to rejection as a lot of people started booing.
Did they boo because Hammerstone got the victory for his team and Hammerstone is the latest to be thrown into the John Cena/Roman Reigns hated babyface portion of the wrestling landscape? Or did fans boo because the end of the match came out of nowhere, never featured a memorable spot and included Savio Vega as the lone surprise entrant?
My guess is the latter, if I’m being honest. Hammerstone was cheered pretty heavily in his match last month against Jacob Fatu, and even when he made his entrance on Saturday, people seemed to take to him well enough. The odd part was that it was a short night’s work for him. It couldn’t have been seven (maybe five) minutes between when he hit the ring as the final entrant and when the match ended. He did a lot of posing in the interim and then posed a bunch after getting the win, which is all to say, perhaps he’s taking the Hulkamania parallel gimmick a bit too far.
Either way, the War Chamber in MLW land is like the Royal Rumble in WWE land. The match sells itself. The participants don’t always matter as much because the novelty of the match carries the biggest parts of the load. I bring this up only because while the War Chamber seems like a can’t-miss gimmick, I’m sad to report that if this year’s wasn’t a miss, it wasn’t a hit, either.
Curious was the only word that described how I felt about nZo signing on for this show. How would he look? How would the crowd take to him? Would he get a pop from the crowd? Would he even matter at all?
The answers to those questions were murky. There were more people cheering him than I thought would cheer him when he first made his way to the ring. By the time he left the ring, however, he established himself as a heel and the crowd did its part by booing him. How was his in-ring work? A little slow and a tiny bit rusty. He’ll be 35 in a month and he looked every second of those 34 years and 11 months. By the end of his match against Matt Cross, he seemed like another two minutes would have been three minutes too long for him to stay upright, but that is to be expected after being away from the ring for so long.
The most lasting nZo moments to me, though, came outside of the ring. Upon us media types being escorted through the back end of the 2300 Arena and into the lobby for interview time, one of the first people anybody saw was nZo at the merch table, having a conversation with someone. He wasn’t available for interviews, but he seemed engaged with all that was going on around him. Or, well, at least it didn’t appear as though he came to this in “I was in WWE,” feeling like he was above everything around him.
The other lasting nZo moment came before the show began. He was walking from the backstage area out into the lobby and he was spotted by a fan that instantly recognized him and rushed over to get his attention. Rather than make up an excuse to keep moving, nZo stopped, signed the kid’s sign, took a picture, talked for a little bit and even gave out a hug before continuing to go where he was going. I’ve seen wrestlers do the exact opposite of that, and I’ve seen the disappointment it brings to a fan’s face. nZo, instead, brought a big, bright smile.
So, do with that what you may. I understand you can’t write the story on nZo without mentioning what may or may not have happened in Phoenix in 2017, and you probably also have to touch on his hip-hop career, which isn’t necessarily lighting up the charts. But all I can say about this past weekend is that he seemed like an MLW team player and he made some fan’s night. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday in Philadelphia.
QUESTION THE ANSWERS
I’m going to keep this short, because I very much understand that the majority of people probably don’t care about the ins and outs of covering an event. Be it a local softball game, a school board meeting, a concert, an NFL game or a pro wrestling event, most readers don’t care about how the sausage is made; they just want to eat the sausage.
And, before saying anything else, this disclaimer needs to be said, too: For the most part, MLW does a great job taking care of the media. You typically get more access here than you would covering any other company and the decision-makers make it a point to make talent available for those of us looking to get insight into everything that’s going on.
But speaking of that talent availability.
For those who don’t know, traditionally, a media scrum is just that — a scrum. Someone comes out, reporters gather around that person, reporters fire away questions, some questions are answered, everyone moves on with their day. Look at any old LeBron James interview after a game in the locker room and you’ll see what I mean.
In October, that’s what MLW gave us, which was great. Sure, it’s a little awkward to start, because people are inherently shy, but once a groove sets in, we cook with gas. This time around, though? This time around, the press handler explained that each member of the press had to get into a single-file line. In that line order, we were allowed to walk up to the talent, one by one, and ask the featured wrestler questions.
This created multiple problems, not the least of which was that if you were at the back of the line, you couldn’t hear what was being said at the front of it. So, if a reporter asked a question while I was one of the last in line, I couldn’t hear it, which meant I could potentially ask the same question without knowing it had already been answered when my time came, and at that point, we’re wasting everybody’s time. The bigger issue for me, though, was that it created a meet-and-greet type atmosphere, which, in my snobby mind, is not how media interactions should be. Between the single-file line and some pictures being taken, the only thing missing was a table and a sharpie.
So. Well. That wasn’t ideal. Again, the MLW staff does a great job at a lot of things, but perhaps next time a scrum could be … a scrum?
TIME IS MONEY
A big reason why MLW has my respect is the company isn’t afraid to make changes to improve its product if its formula isn’t working (so, if we gotta hop in a single-file line next time, guys, I’ll tell you what …). After the Fightland tapings, I took to this website to rant about how long the tapings were and how that killed the vibe for what was an otherwise very good main event. I arrived at the building at 3:30 p.m. that afternoon and didn’t get out of there until after 12:30 a.m. That’s a lot of time and a lot of matches to digest.
This time around, it was easy to tell that time was on the producer’s mind — so much so that it felt like a few matches were cut just a little short. In all, the thing wrapped before 11 p.m., and that extra hour-and-a-half works wonders when it comes to not feeling like you’ve been beaten over the head with nearly 20 matches. Instead, these tapings showcased only 12 matches, with one squash and a couple that felt shorter than I thought they’d be.
Better yet was the moment I was worried about the most — the amount of time it would take the crew to construct the War Chamber itself. I was at GCW’s The Art Of War Games in Chicago back in September and it felt like it took those guys at least 45 minutes to get everything up and ready to go. I want to say the MLW crew had everything set in less than 10 minutes, which was a minor miracle.
Is 12 matches and four hours still too much? I can’t say for sure. Because the last event felt like such a marathon, this one felt like a 100-meter dash. But objectively speaking, it’s still not the easiest thing to swallow. This isn’t just an MLW thing, either. Head to see AEW on a Wednesday night and you could be there for five hours, with Dark Elevation, Dynamite and Rampage tapings. Check out a live episode of Raw and expect to be there for at least four hours between dark matches and the three-hour televised show.
But if you like wrestling, there can’t be too much of a good thing, right? Ehh, maybe. Either way, MLW deserves credit for being willing to change and accommodate its fan base — even if there’s a certain three-letter company based in Connecticut that refuses to do the same.
nZo has ALWAYS made time for kids, usually he signs or gives something to them in exchange for promises of good grades etc.
Fwiw, I’ve reviewed the evidence and witness statements, I’ve even gotten to know the alleged victim.
I think she’s got a good heart, but I also don’t think she was being honest about what happened that night imo. She is the only one of her entire group who’s depiction of the events in question don’t align with anyone else’s.
None of this means he’s actually innocent, but for someone who was never convicted I think as a society we should let the man earn a living at this point.