Thursday, August 23, 2018

ALL IN: The 2018 Osbourn Park Yellow Jackets

Recently I got a chance to sit down with a handful of this year’s impact players (Luke Nitowski, Reilly Pettit, Anthony Smoot, Jordan Barnett) for the Osbourn Park Yellow Jackets to see their progress in the offseason, find out their goals and what the mindset is like before their season opener versus TC Williams. 

1.    How has your summer been?

Barnett: I went to Jamaica. A different experience, a different culture. For the team we would go to Buffalo Wild Wings, Preston’s Pub and we’d hang out. We also built a lot of chemistry in the 7-on-7’s.

Pettit: It’s been good, but I have done nothing but workout and go to football practice. We had a dead week so I went to the beach. Even then I was still working out at the beach: running, swimming. Does eating count?

Smoot: My summer has been pretty good. I’ve been focusing on football and building connections with my teammates to make sure everyone in on the same page this year and is ready for the season.

Nitowski: Going to Shenandoah Valley to practice together for three or four days really brought the team closer together.  I feel this year’s team has a lot more talent and we are bonding better and ready to surprise everyone this year.

2.    Did you do anything football-related on your own?

Pettit: I wanted to be in the best shape for the season mentally and physically. I watched a lot of film and studying plays. I’ll watch other teams to get better. The best way is to watch those better than you and what they are doing. I try to incorporate new things.

Barnett: I worked on my footwork a lot. Last year was not good enough. I worked with my trainer and watched a lot of film on our opponents, too. I’ve also been running a lot so I can improve my endurance. Last year I wasn’t in the best shape.

Smoot: The biggest thing I have done to prepare for this season is making sure I am better than I was before I got hurt. I have been in the weight room a lot this offseason to get stronger and going to camps to play with the best competition. I’ve been doing speed training and I have been studying the game and watching film to be the best player I am capable of being.

Nitowski: I’ve been watching film all summer with my dad to break down my opponents. This week it was TC. That really helps and very excited to play them. My dad gives me technique tips and who I have to read to make the play as a linebacker since he was one. Mentally you need to know all the plays and where the running back is going to go, how I will react. Physically I want to get stronger and faster and feel I have done that.

3.    Do you feel more pressure to be a leader or does it come naturally?

Smoot: I feel it comes naturally. All my senior friends last year were leaders and they helped me out last season. This season I feel it’s my job to help the underclassmen.

Pettit: I’m used to leading from last year. I don’t want to have an iron grip. I let the team lead itself and I give it a push every once in a while.  I don’t have the biggest voice. I speak for the team.

Barnett: There’s more pressure but I am willing to deal with it.

Nitowski: As a senior it’s on my shoulders- but whether we win or lose we are all together. If we lose I’ll work to get better and make sure we are all on track.

4.    Off the field, what is the biggest difference?

Smoot: The biggest difference this year is that players come to me for advice and I do my best to assist them.

Pettit: Other than that I am a senior and not a junior- not much.

Barnett: Grade-wise…last year was difficult as a freshman, but I look to have my feet under me this year and do better.

5.    Biggest takeaway from offseason workouts, practices?

Smoot: You only get one senior year and you have to make the best of it. You never know when a play will impact the game, so go one-hundred percent on each play.

Pettit: If you’re going to be in- all in. You can’t be on the edge or halfway. You need to commit yourself. Our coaching staff preaches that- they’re a bunch of characters. We have a lot of changes with a whole new range of people and it’s an interesting time.

Barnett: ALL IN. Go a hundred percent every play. Give in to the program.

Nitowski: We have a whole new defensive coaching staff. I love them. They know everything and teach us so well. Coach Johnson is with us every day. We have a pre-practice and I feel prepared every time I step on the field. Coach Evans is a lot more focused on both sides of the ball. We are looking great with a new QB. He’s looking to win as are we.

6.    Goals for the season?

Smoot: I want us to have a winning record and make the playoffs. My academic goal is to have a 4.0 GPA. Personally, I would like to have 1,000 yards receiving with at least 15 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.

Pettit: I want to stay above a 3.5 so I can get into a good college, even if not for football. I want to have a winning season and go to the playoffs. I want to get better than last year.

Barnett: I want to average a 3.0 and to make the honor roll. I also want to run for 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Nitowski: I need to make the best of it in the classroom. Education first- do well there and move on to sports and make it the best year I’ve had.

7.    Schools of interest?

Smoot: The school I go to does not really matter to me. As long as I get the chance to play at the next level, I am extremely blessed.

Pettit: For academics, not really. But I have been looking at UVA, Richmond, Lafayette, Bucknell.

Barnett: I talk to Virginia Tech a lot. That’s my favorite school so far. I would want to be a lawyer.

Nitowski: CNU, Shippensburg, Hampton-Sydney. I’d like to study business and finance.

8.    Team goals?

Smoot: We want to go 1-0 every single week with a winning season and make the playoffs.

Pettit: We want a winning record at home.

Barnett: We want to have a winning record at home and beat Colgan. That’s a big one.

Nitowski: What they all said, plus win a playoff game.

9.    Mindset heading into Friday versus TC Williams?

Pettit: You got to hit them hard and hit them fast. If you don’t- they’ll put you in the ground. I want the fans to come out and cheer us on and we’ll be trying our hardest.

Barnett: Win. The fans need to come out and watch us beat TC.

Nitowski: We are going to win. It won’t be easy and we’ll put in all we have with 110% on each play. GO OP!

Keep it tuned to for more on this year’s team including scores, game recaps, player profiles, players of the week and more.

Follow the team on Twitter @OPJackets and @OPHSfootball.

Follow Sean at @SeanNeutron.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Commonwealth Cup Weekend: It's a Thing

Last year, Nova Pro Wrestling debuted their Commonwealth Cup tournament as a one-night array of stacked matches. All sorts of debuting talent mixed it up with company mainstays for the right to raise the Cup. Logan Easton Laroux came out victorious, and an institution was born. Fast forward one year, and the Commonwealth Cup evolved into an entire weekend that featured three shows (two of which on and the first-ever women’s Commonwealth Cup tournament.

Things were off to a rocky start the week of the tournament. Heavy favorite Gunner Miller announced he had suffered a terrible injury that would keep him out for the rest of 2018. The first entrant announced- Eddie Kingston- would withdraw due to medical reasons. The debuting Chelsea Green would bow out of the tournament the same day. Nova Pro was in a bad spot, but you don’t run their level of shows for more than three years without a little resilience. Homicide would fill in for Gunner to face Beau Crockett, and Jonathan Gresham stepped in admirably to fight Dominic Garrini. The bubbly Barbi Hayden would be called up from non-tournament action to make her debut in style opposite Angelus Layne.

This article isn’t just to simply recap the winners (albeit ones with impressive runs/career trajectories). It’s to dig deeper and to describe the experience that is Commonwealth Cup weekend based not only on my perspective but those of the entrants, personnel and fans. Last year’s Commonwealth Cup was filled with action- but 2018 was a weekend to remember chalk full of their core roster, returning favorites and debuting talent.

Things I could start with:

-The winners (Jordynne Grace and Wheeler Yuta)
- The defending CWC winner (Logan Easton Laroux) losing in the opening match to Arik Royal
-Sage Philips’ run where he took beatings from Jimmy Jacobs and Dominic Garrini and still made the final round
-Angelus Layne staying a part of Nova Pro and wanting to watch it burn during her second-round match versus Allie Kat
-My guests from this week’s episodes of the  Squared Circle Soundoff (PCO and Tim Donst)
-The debuts of PCO, Nick Gage, Homicide and NWA Champion Nick Aldis (After typing that I had to read it again because it was so surreal having all 4 men in the same building.)

Instead I’ll start with Wes “Danger” Rogers. The Hampton, Virginia native and 2017 Nova BOC tryout attendee had shown up for the Mike Quackenbush seminar to soak in any and all knowledge he could. Ironically enough, he was the subject of a question posed by the MGB podcast during my talk with Tim Donst about his similar “Safety First” gimmick in VCW. The two would connect on Friday and find a way to team up later on that night. 

But Wes shouldn’t even be here. Two and a half years ago he was driving when a drunk driver being pursued by cops had gotten to the wrong side of the road and crashed head on at seventy miles per hour with him. Wes doesn’t remember much that night, but he would have plenty of mementos: a broken ankle, smashed knees, torn abdomen, severe concussion amongst other injuries. He’d spend 40 days in the hospital and have multiple surgeries as recent as August 2017 to help him live a normal life again.

“I'm a walking testament to both the triumphs and follies of modern medicine,” said the cheerful Rogers. Simply surviving that is a challenge in itself- let alone continuing his career as a professional wrestler. But hey, at least he has a stellar Storm Troopac tattoo as well.

Rogers would join the hottest act in the company, “Safety First” Tim Donst as part of the Safety Squad featuring “Cool Caution” Kyle, “Duct Tape” Doug and a few other new members: “Too Safe” Kevin Trash and “Sweeping” Scott Hallway. Chants of “SAFETY FIRST” and “TOO SAFE” permeated the Annandale Volunteer Fire Department. Even though Donst and Fred Yehi had faced off before, this felt different with their respective evolutions. Prior to the match, Yehi joined forces with Stokely Hathaway by bypassing signing a contract with a firm hug.

Everyone in the squad had their role, and the creativity incorporated was brilliant. Yehi brought his physical style but was constantly counteracted by the Safety Squad’s antics:

Yehi would score the submission win over my pick to win it all, but Tim would return on night 2 with a familiar foe. Despite not winning the CWC, Donst remained positive about the weekend as a whole.

“I love being around fresher outside talent. It's hip and refreshing to see guys like Homicide and PCO among the regular roster members. It allows for fresh matchups and team ups,” said Donst.

He continued, “I enjoy spending time with the regular roster members as well. Pro wrestlers really are a make shift family on the road and on the run. There's guys I consider to be my best friends that I see once every month. It makes sense- not only are you connected through an ultimate socially unacceptable art form fandom by performing but you also have to trust each other with your lives with every hold, move and match. Getting to spend more than thirty minutes talking to a locker-room mate on a busy show day is rare but this show allowed our family to get even stronger.”

One of the wildest things was kicking off the men’s tournament with two of Nova Pro’s cornerstones: the defending CWC winner, Logan Easton Laroux versus The Old Dominion Rumble winner Arik Royal. The two proved at Nova Project 3 they were capable of putting on an instant classic and did not disappoint here. Royal scored the win and ended Laroux’s streak of appearing on every show.

“It was a Shakespearean tragedy the likes of which the wrestling world has never seen,” said Logan.

 The Gated Community and Ed Dao would not have a fun weekend, as Alexander James also lost in the opening round to Wheeler Yuta. It was a match I had pegged as my dark horse to steal that round, and after seeing the storytelling between those two combined with their in-ring chemistry- I would easily put it up against any other first round match. Bobby Shields did beat Solo Darling, and James would redeem himself on night two with a win over Jimmy Jacobs. Each match had its own identity, and that was integral for such a loaded two days.

The action would continue with Powerbomb TV champion Tracy Williams defeating Curt Stallion with a piledriver and Sage Philips surviving two beatings by Jimmy Jacobs and Dominic Garrini. He’d not only live to tell about it- but wrestle the three other finalists. Like the rest of the field I talked to, Garrini only had positives to come from the weekend.

“The Commonwealth Cup was a great experience. Nova Pro is quickly building a tournament experience like other top flight independent promotions, especially with the addition of the women’s tournament. Guy, girl- it didn’t matter. The best in the world competed in both. For me it was awesome because I got the chance to wrestle opponents like Jon Gresham- one of the best wrestlers in the world- and an up-and-comer in Sage.”

Friday night would see 3 huge debuts: Homicide, Nick Gage and PCO. Homicide filled in for Gunner Miller and ended up tapping out Beau Crockett but would fall to Yuta in the second round due to a controversial three-count which left myself and the rest of the crowd stunned.

"I was happy with both of my matches until the ref stopped the match versus Yuta on Saturday night. I was bleeding and I felt at the time it was corny to stop the match- but I understand the rules are different in Virginia," Homicide would say later.

The main event was a match that when announced for the CWC, even promoter Mike E. King was in shock he managed to book it: Nick Gage versus PCO. Fans peppered the AVFD with chants of “WE’RE GONNA DIE”, “NICK F*CKING GAGE” and “PCO”. A few fans even suggested making “We survived Gage vs PCO” shirts. Simply put- the two did not disappoint.

By the way, PCO is fifty years old but he’s not human whatsoever:

 After the match, the audience either needed a drink, a smoke or both. What surprised me most was how quick and agile Gage was, and how fun it would have been to see him versus other CWC entrants.

PCO would come out on top and would take on Arik Royal in the second round. Following PCO for the weekend would be the talented filmmaker Kenny Johnson who has done documentaries for Evolve, Joey Janela, MJF and more. I got his thoughts on his experience at Nova Pro and with PCO.

“He’s a super nice guy who’s got an incredible amount of passion for wrestling. He’s not afraid to reinvent himself and take chances. He always wants to give one-hundred percent to each match. Filming was super easy. He was able to open up and give a lot of great insight on his career and thoughts on life in general,” said Johnson.

I got a chance to talk with PCO after night two, and we had a very laidback conversation. With as popular as the guy is these days, he never once made it feel rushed and gave me all the time in the world to catch up with him following our wonderful talk on the SCSO.

I had done a cover image for the podcast using a unique font that I felt fit his character, and Pierre was really impressed by it. He raved to me through messenger, but in person even more. He felt it really fit his character perfectly. The O with the target in it to him really personified him hunting his goals. That level of appreciation blew me away. 

"Nova Pro is a great company to perform for. They are very professional as are all the guys and girls in the locker-room. The crowd is very smart and engaged with all the matches, and I truly enjoyed this weekend. Under any circumstances, I always give my all,” said Pierre. 

Saturday was defined by two things: the women taking over and more storyline-driven matches as opposed to pure tournament competition. The eight women were busting their butts to make history, and the afternoon show was full of staples (Jordynne Grace, Allie Kat, Veda Scott, Angelus Layne, Faye Jackson), returns (Rachael Ellering, Mia Yim) and a lone debut (Barbi Hayden). Hayden was originally scheduled to take part in non- tournament action and was a replacement for Chelsea Green who bowed out late in the week. Hayden had her opportunity versus Layne who was fighting for her career with Nova Pro.

The first thing I noticed about the College Station, Texas product was how genuinely nice she was- which is why she’s a perfect fit for a locker room that lacks egos.

“Going into Nova Pro, I didn’t have many set expectations. I tend to leave preconceived notions at the door because I like to experience everything for my own judgement. The crowd was vivacious and friendly, the venue was brightly lit and well taken care of. I was a last-minute replacement and if you know me- you know I hate last minute changes,” said Hayden. “Despite not winning in the end, I’m very proud of my performance and cannot wait to return to such a classy and well-put together show that’s appropriate for all ages.”

Layne knew what the show meant for wrestling in general, no matter whether one is male or female.

“The 2018 women’s CWC wasn’t a tournament to showcase the talents of the top female competitors within Nova Pro, but rather step forward in showcasing talent regardless of gender- blurring the lines of ‘good for a woman’ or ‘good for a man’. All the women in the tournament delivered as professional wrestlers who all had the common goal of winning.”

Dennis from the Squared Circle Sirens would help with the majority of announcing duties for the tournament. He was kind enough to compose his thoughts in a very eloquent tweet:

A fun callback to last year’s tryout show was Veda Scott versus Allie Kat in a “teacher versus student” matchup. Scott came with a “crazy cat lady” gimmick which saw her toss stuffed cats into the crowd to the chagrin of Allie- one of which gave her a pretty stellar hip toss. Yes, you read that right. It also included the BRUTALITY of Veda being slammed into dry cat food. Allie would pick up the win with her trademark headbutt.

Elsewhere in the opening round, Jordynne Grace would have a fast-paced and competitive match with the lovely Rachael Ellering and come out on top. Mia Yim’s return was followed with a win over Faye Jackson.

The next round is where storylines played more of a role when Angelus lost to Allie Kat by not breaking the ref’s five count.

 “After winning my first-round match and securing my position in Nova Pro, I realized the Cup didn’t mean as much to me as revenge did. I made the decision to teach Allie Kat a lesson rather than advance to the finals. Continuing to make her, Mike E. King and Nova Pro as a whole suffer is more of a victory than anything.”

That left Northern Virginia’s own Mia Yim to take on the powerhouse Jordynne Grace. The two elite wrestlers went back and forth, but Grace would prove to be too much for Mia.

“I love the concept and am excited to see next year’s tournament,” said Yim.

By this point in the day, I started to feel a sense of exhaustion- but a powernap in between shows followed by a Redbull had me jacked and ready to go for the evening.

I feel like Stefon in Saturday Night Live. Saturday night had EVERYTHING: tournament matches, title matches, tag matches, returns, NO DQ matches, storyline advancement, etc. One of the more special moments was Crab Wrestling Champion Isaiah Frazier challenging Nick Aldis for the NWA championship with a spot at ALL IN on the line.

I have seen the talent in Isaiah, and him defeating Mack Buckler on night one felt like a long time coming. He moves effortlessly in the ring with accuracy and speed. He could use those as an advantage over Aldis, whereas Aldis would use his power and veteran savvy to outdo Frazier. The crowd has been behind Frazier the last few months, and on this night they were louder and more passionate than ever. 

 It was not meant to be tonight for Isaiah, but even in a loss he had a star-making performance.

“That match was amazing. He’s a great wrestling mind. I definitely look forward to doing it again. He told me he loved being at Nova and said it was fun,” said Isaiah.

Aldis expressed plenty of respect for the young talent, and his fondness for Nova Pro as a whole.

“I had a good time at the Commonwealth Cup and was very impressed by the professionalism of the promotion. Isaiah has come a long way in a short period of time and hung in there very well with me. He deserved the standing ovation he got at the end of the match. If he continues to work hard and develop his character he has a bright future in the business.

There were lots of great talent at the show that I have never seen before- both male and female. Scouting potential future opponents and talent for future NWA projects is always exciting to me.
I hope I get to return to Nova Pro as I had a great time and I'm fairly close being in Richmond. I would like to see them prosper and enjoy working with younger talent.”

Donst and Gage would be the perfect opponents for The Carnies. The odd couple duo gave me flashbacks of The Rock N’ Sock Connection on a Nova Pro scale, and it was just the first part of the fantastic storytelling throughout the match. 

Despite being so good at being bad, the crowd truly enjoyed seeing the Circus return to Northern Virginia and Kerry Awful reflected on the moment.

“It’s probably been what- like two, three, four months since we were last at Nova Pro? It’s funny, because I never really know how the crowd is going to react to us there. I would say that Nick, Tripp and I are probably the most polarizing figures there. One night they might be threatening to stab our tires and the next moment they are beating our drum into battle. I think there was more than a few people secretly chanting ‘welcome back’. I think we were able to make something special happen with Gage & Donst. Especially when I powerbombed Donst so hard it knocked him back into his former identity. Even though we won the match, I don’t feel as if I’m done with Gage. When he ripped my shirt, and I took my mask off — there was a brief moment where it felt time stopped and the crowd felt something very special.”

Nick chimed in as well. “I’ll say this about Nova Pro- it’s got one of the most dynamic, well-rounded locker rooms along with one of the most die-hard fan bases. Anytime our busy schedule lines up, we jump at the opportunity to be there.” 

Donst would be reincarnated as his pre-Safety First self, but The Carnies would come out on top. The fallout was almost more important than the preceding match. Gage got into it with Donst and the two began to set up a match at a later date, but even more pressing- Beau decided the circus tent was getting just a bit too crowded.

"The Carnies- Nick, Kerry, Trip...they claimed to be my brothers," said Beau. "They claimed they were going to be family and with their help The Beau Show would be the Main Attraction of the Carnival. Where did they go? what did they do? Where did my loyalty to them get me? I became the Main Attraction on my own anyway. Turns out I didn't need their help, and I owe them nothing. Not one bit of my effort unless it's to burn the big top to the ground."

“Beau talks about where we have been or what have we done for him? We didn’t have his back. Beau should have learned a lesson in being self-reliant,” said Kerry. “That’s the first rule of being a Carny. We don’t cheat because we have to, we cheat because we want to. We’re going to see if we can fleece the Gated Community out of a small house payment to get rid of him. There is nothing the circus likes more than getting paid to do something they love, and Beau — destroying him is something we are going to love doing.” 

Nick echoed the sentiment, saying “He threw away his future. If it wasn’t for the Carnies, he’d still be dancing with Innocent Isaiah and fading into obscurity. We gave his career a resurgence. He failed to get past the first round, so it’s probably best he removed himself from the Carnies to save us any more embarrassment.”

The women’s tournament would conclude with an epic match between Jordynne Grace and Allie Kat. It was two of the best in ring performers the company has to offer, and the psychology on display was brilliant. Jordynne’s leg was bothering her from earlier in the day, and Allie’s back had been destroyed by Gothicc. She had the KT tape to prove it, but the glory of being the first ever women’s Commonwealth Cup winner was on the line. Both targeted the problem areas, and Grace would use Air Jordynne, forearms and eventually a bearhug to submit the valiant feline. 

 The significance of the win was not lost on Grace, “I was lucky and unlucky in the fact that I had three incredible opponents throughout the tournament. Lucky in the fact that all three of these women, Rachael, Mia, and Allie, are all incredible wrestlers, among the best in the world, and unlucky in that there was no match I could go easy or ‘phone it in’. I had three matches I was proud of and really gave it my all throughout the entire day. I am extremely grateful and humbled to have won it.”

The men’s final still had one spot open, and Royal vs PCO decided who got in. It was the hossiest of hoss battles, and if you think PCO was slowing down, you’re damn wrong. Dude was still diving through the ropes, frog-splashing and moonsaulting his ass off to try and win. Royal’s resilience came in to play and he’d secure that final spot.

Yuta, Royal, Philips and Tracy Williams would be that final four. The action as expected was fast and furious with Williams being eliminated first by Royal, then Sage by Royal, then finally Yuta wins with the STF. Not a lot of people saw his win coming, and the crowd was happy for him but still in a state of shock. Even less people expected what followed: Homicide brutally attacking Yuta postmatch, destroying the Cup and demanding ring announcer Bryan Hughes declare him the winner of the tournament.

“Winning the tournament really meant a lot to me because I felt like it was a unique task that I was able to accomplish. To come in and wrestle six completely different competitors in two days is nothing to scoff at. I pride myself on adaptability and using my intelligence and scientific approach to get the win, and I feel like I did that this weekend. I needed significant resilience as well, and I like to think I showed that as well. Hopefully I proved that Wheeler Yuta is the future.”

He might have had a winning afterglow but the extracurricular activities were not lost on him.

“I was less than happy to be attacked by Homicide. I understand there was some controversy following our second-round match, but I would have happily fought in a rematch at American Slang without the attack. That was supposed to be my moment in Nova Pro, but I guess I'll just have to come out on top at American Slang and get my moment then.” Nova Pro announced earlier this week the two will face off at American Slang.”

Two shows in a day is long for anyone, especially the competitors- but the reaction I have heard from fans, friends, personnel and wrestlers is nothing but positive. Todd Meyers, who the fans have dubbed “Buff Ref” compared this CWC to last year’s.

“I thought the talent level and match quality were noticeably better. The biggest story for me coming out of the trio of shows this weekend was the return of Tim Donst and his development with Nick Gage. That match will be insane. Homicide is set to unleash havoc on Nova Pro, too. While the tournament was great, those bigger stories will headline a hot summer for Nova Pro.”

The weekend wasn’t over there, as The Cue Club down the street held post show festivities. In one room you had Nick Gage playing Homicide in pool, and the two could not have been cooler and more appreciative of the fan support.

In the next room? Karaoke.

Tim Donst and Breaux Keller were the all-stars, planning out what songs were next and killing it each time they performed.  You couldn’t help but sing-along, dance and let loose. The highlight was the entire room singing the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”:

 It was a way to cap off a fantastic weekend, especially for Breaux who had two wins in two nights.

“It’s definitely an honor being on these shows with such a talented roster. It’s very humbling for me and to snag a couple of W’s. Hopefully I can take this momentum and keep it rolling as I try to climb the ladder all the way up. Also, I’m trying to be somewhere close to being as cool as ‘Cool Caution’ Kyle,” he told me.

You’ll never be as cool as “Cool Caution’ Kyle, Breaux. But Donst finished things off with the reason why Commonwealth Cup weekend is officially “a thing”:

“The Nova Pro fans rule. Not only are they super positive, super loud but super interactive. I think their creation of my ‘Safety First" variant is proof of that. Mike King didn't create it. I didn't have anything to do with it. The crowd did- and that rules. That's wrestling. Need more proof? One of the greatest moments of my life was not only seeing a sea of safety vests during the show but afterwards while doing "bust a move" someone moved a safety cone on stage with me…in real life. Even after the show the bond between performer and crowd member and fun is all in the same. I had the greatest wrestling and karaoke time this past weekend. The fans made it so.”

I already have a list of songs in mind for the next karaoke night, and only one goal: Nick Gage leading everyone in his version of “The Safety Dance”.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron and follow @SCSOpod.

All images* via @JayLeeAC.

*Image of PCO by Kenny Johnson

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Golden Hurdle

We are mere hours away from one of the most important games of the season for the Houston Rockets and their fanbase at the Toyota Center. Some may mention legacy talk for Mike D’Antoni, James Harden and Chris Paul. The outcome will not only a measuring stick on viewing this season as a success/failure for most, but a game that has Rockets nation the closest they’ve ever been to an NBA Finals since they won two back-to-back in 1994 and 1995. Along the way, they’ve suffered more than a few heartbreaks, and I’m not sure how much more the loyal Houstonians can take after such a memorable season so far as the number one seed with homecourt advantage.

Before we go any further, it must be noted that Chris Paul’s availability for Game 7 are uncertain. He injured his hamstring towards the end of Game 5 and sat out Game 6. The Rockets started hot but faded in the second half- and even at seventy-five to eighty percent, CP3 would be a welcomed addition to help take some ball-handling responsibilities from James Harden. But despite whether Paul plays or not, the Rockets are in a must-win situation with Golden State as their kryptonite, and Harden must be Superman in order for Houston to move on. It was also announced Andrew Iguodala is out for the third straight game which must have been a relief for the city of Houston.

The post-championship Rockets have always seemed like the bridesmaid and never the bride, but they may have been upgraded to maid-of-honor with their effort so far this series. The late nineties saw a pseudo super team form when Charles Barkley joined Clyde Drexler and Hakeem and helped lead them to a 57-25 record. They would fall to a John Stockton buzzer beater in the Western Conference Finals.

The next season, Houston struggled to a 41-41 record but still made the playoffs. Again, the Jazz would eliminate them in the first round. The next offseason saw them add Scottie Pippen in a sign-and-trade, while new faces like Bryce Drew, Cuttino Mobley and Michael Dickerson joined the fold. They’d finish the strikeout-shortened season 31-19. Maybe it was not enough time to completely gel, maybe it was age, maybe it was Maybelline- but they would once again fall in the first round to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The next era in Houston saw them trade for former Maryland Terrapin Steve Francis. While a dynamic talent who would find chemistry with Mobley, those years were a rollercoaster with little to show for it: 34-48, 45-37, 28-54, 43-39, 45-37. They would only make the playoffs once (losing 4-1 to the dynastic Lakers), draft Yao Ming with the top pick in 2002 and Rudy Tomjanovich would retire after 02-03 as Jeff Van Gundy would take over. JVG would get one year with Steve as the cornerstone until they included him in a trade that would bring over Tracy McGrady.

T-Mac and Yao had all sorts of expectations, and people made comparisons to Shaq and Kobe, whether realistically or not. Once you get an elite scorer like T-Mac and one of the best-shooting big men, minds will wander. The Rockets surprised everyone when they jumped out to a 2-0 series lead versus the favorite Dallas Mavericks in 2005, but squandered the series and lost 4-3 (including a 40 point loss in Game 7).

The two would never realize their potential as they would trade time with multiple injuries before McGrady would be traded in 2010, and Yao would retire in 2011. The Rockets franchise was in a state of disarray, with no clear identity.

The 2011-2012 Rockets were young and without a franchise piece, yet still managed a respectable 34-32 record in a shortened season thanks to Chandler Parsons, Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry. The big score wouldn’t happen until the next offseason when James Harden was acquired from the Thunder in a move that shocked the league. Some doubted if he could develop into an elite cornerstone, but he has since silenced those doubts over the past five seasons. His first season saw him carry a mashed-up collection of talent to a 45-37 record and an eight seed before falling to the Thunder 4-2 in the playoffs. While not an ideal ending, it was progress and Daryl Morey looked smarter by the day.  

The next big era would join Dwight Howard with Harden. Like Yao/T-Mac before them, they had lofty expectations from the start as a classic center/guard combo. While the expectations were there, the results were mixed. The two would end up on the wrong end of another buzzer-beater courtesy of Damian Lillard.

The duo would create much tension, and never find any success outside of an upset of the then Chris Paul-led Clippers that led to a WCF appearance in 2015 as a massive underdog to the Warriors championship team. They would lose 4-1.

Dwight would spend one more year with Houston before the tension was insurmountable. They ended the 2015-2016 season with a 4-1 loss to Golden State again.

Harden would get Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson the next season, and while they saw semblances of success- they were never viewed as serious contenders. The hardest pillow to swallow for the franchise came in last year’s playoffs when they were blown out by 39 at home to a Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard or Tony Parker.

With all the ups and downs, fans continue to buy in to the Rockets and their potential. This season saw them prove a lot of doubters wrong on the way to 65 wins, a potential NBA MVP and multiple statistical and historical records. Houston was down after Game 6 but not out and are in a “Rockets versus the world” kind of mode with doubters a plenty.

Resilience and the ability to answer adversity has become a hallmark of this team. They have answered every loss this postseason with a counter punch of their own, and I don’t see why they can’t do the same at home. Houston is a proud and strong city, and the Rockets should go in with plenty of confidence as they’ve been able to do what no other team in this Warriors championship era has: challenge them and put doubt in their heads.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Wrestling Returns to Richmond


A few months back, Timmy Danger approached me to come on my podcast to discuss a show “The Progressive Liberal” Daniel Richards and himself were setting up in Richmond. It would be in a brewery/bar setting and would mark the return of wrestling in Richmond. I’m no promoter or wrestler but talking to plenty of them over the last two years or so gave me an idea of just how difficult it is to put on your own show and get people to make it a part of their Friday night plans- especially with no track record to go off of. 

But the two worked hard on all the logistics: getting a venue, sponsors, wrestlers, vendors, a ring announcer and most importantly- a crowd. The two and referee Chris Sharpe (another Richmond local) appeared on various media outlets to hype it up and spread the word through social media. By Friday morning, tickets for the show were officially sold out and people were turned away at the door of The Hofheimer Building.

Heading into this I knew I would be making it down to Richmond (at rush hour on a Friday on Memorial Day weekend no less) and back in the same night which would equal four total hours of driving. After I talked in detail with the two on The Squared Circle Soundoff, I was more than hyped to do it, and after last night I would do it again in a heartbeat. Joining me would be Lupus Dei and Edward Dao of The Gated Community, in support of “The Champion of the 1 Percent” Logan Easton Laroux and Bobby Shields.

We got there fifteen minutes prior to belltime and the show was on the second floor of The Hof. The lovely Emma Lou would be handing out the wristbands, and I told her I look forward to seeing her make her Nova Pro debut opposite Jordan Blade in a few weeks. The two would have a memorable interaction later in the night.

Once we got settled with our ice-cold beverages (Allagash White for the win) you could sense the show would have an intimate feel and a unique look. The ceiling was very low, and the ring was a tad smaller and lower than your typical one. There was an opening in the middle of the room that had a window right above the ring. Pipes hanging from the ceiling would certainly play a part later in the night and affect how guys either avoided them or used them to their advantage. Let’s just say no one was hitting a shooting star press tonight.

Daniel and Chris appeared on the SCSO Episodes 82 and 82.5 to discuss the show at The Hof.

People were buzzing, and ring announcer/local personality Wonderland Chad would get on the mic to get the crowd even more amped. Eddie Diamond (another local guy and former OVW Heavyweight Champion) would kick things off with Bobby Shields. I talked with Shields on what it meant to open up a show that had such high hopes.

“It was amazing to not only set the tone for the event last night but to set the tone for the beginning of something amazingly special in Richmond.  The crowd, the atmosphere- it was a perfect storm of everything that’s great about pro wrestling.  Last night is the type of night why I do this, why I do the drives, and why I love independent professional wrestling.”

The two locked up and would go back and forth in a stellar matchup. Each time they took a bump, the ring seemed to have an added pop to it being in a small setting, and the crowd ate it up immediately. Diamond would score the win and set the tone for the Richmond fans. A six-man tag team match that included Noise Pollution and Jimmy Love versus Beau James, Mega Destroyer and Shawn Cruz would follow. James is Daniel Richards’ mentor.

I had the pleasure of meeting Maxx Morrison and congratulating him on his recent engagement to his fiancΓ©. I’d ask him about his thoughts on their match and the night as a whole.

What we did last night was special. We packed a room in the heart of Richmond and gave them a show they’ll never forget. Pure awesome from top to bottom. For the crowd to be as hot as they were and every match felt big. Everything about that atmosphere felt right.”

Up next was Dejaun O’Neal vs Jason Kincaid in a bout Morrison considered to be contending for match of the night opposite Timmy Danger/Chris Silvio- and I’d definitely agree. O’Neal and Kincaid would go back and forth for a quite a while (apologies as I did not time matches) and capitalized on a crowd that appreciated everyone’s efforts. While each would have their impressive moments, Kincaid took advantage of the environment around him and leaped up to hang off a ceiling pipe and deliver a leg drop across the neck/back of O’Neal for the win.

Despite being on the losing end of his match versus Kincaid, O’Neal had plenty of positives to take away.

“That night was magic. Richmond set an atmosphere in which the energy was tangible. It’s rare to experience environments such as that one. As for my match, Jason Kincaid and I did battle, I learned a lot but I also proved that I can hold my own in the ring with one of the best in the world.”

A brief intermission would follow where the guys would sell merchandise, greet fans and give the high-energy crowd a chance to regroup, refuel and get ready for the latter part of the show. The crew kept the projected pace of two/two and-a-half hours on course.

I left to use the bathroom, and the hallway had to be a legitimate ten degrees cooler than the wrestling area. But sweating out this show was part of the charm in my opinion. At one point I was waiting to use one of the SIX unisex bathrooms that kept lines almost nonexistent (a gamechanger if there ever was one) and conversed with a well-dressed female who was coming down from the rooftop bar and looked like she'd never seen wrestling in her life.

"Enjoying the show?" I asked.

"I'm at the bar upstairs but this looks like way more fun. Are they doing this again?" she inquired.

I neither confirmed nor denied but she was one of  more than a few rooftop patrons who snuck glances from time to time at the show.

They never let matches drag on and filled time accordingly. Up next was Timmy Danger and Chris Silvio in a street fight, and as Maxx and I agreed earlier- it was definitely a show stealer.

These guys poured their heart and soul into this match and it all began with a hell of an entrance for Silvio. 

Danger and Silvio went to war, using a variety of ways to inflict punishment on each other. Danger had two henchmen and Neil Sharkey to give him an upper hand at times, and the two would use trays and ladders, the outside of the ring and everything in between on this night. Silvio wrestled like a madman, diving through the ropes and out of the ring and having no regard for his safety.

@TheChrisSilvio received a hell of an ovation from Richmond last night:

Danger would not go quiet in the night, as he would make Silvio pay with this nasty powerbomb onto the ladder:

Sharkey wouldn’t just get involved from the apron but he’d even find himself on the damn ladder itself, and he received a lesson in gravity from Silvio, who would finish off the match flying through the air with a pretty sweet elbow:

The two would eventually get to their feet and share a mutual respect until Danger booted Silvio in the gut- because, c’mon…it’s Timmy Danger. But the impression they left on the crowd was indelible. Chants of “THIS IS AWESOME!” and “FIGHT FOREVER!” permeated the Richmond night, and they delivered without letting it drag at any period. Silvio expressed his gratitude afterwards.

“It was an emotional evening last night. We definitely left our hearts in the ring. Danger was a warrior. I can’t wait for the next one,” he told me.

“I wanted to give the fans a night to remember and I felt we accomplished that,” said Danger.

Before we got to our Laroux/Richards main event, Emma Lou came out to present one lucky winner with a full-size poster of the show. It was a cool moment but interrupted by Jordan Blade. The two talented Richmond products had a little scuffle and Emma came out on top. Ref Chris Sharpe went to help up Blade, and she was having none of it, pushing him away and then slapping him hard across the face. Sharpe went into hell-raising badass mode and STUNNED her. The crowd went off for it, and it was a nice primer before we got to the battle right and left. Sharpe had a full night, refereeing every match in a room that was quite hot by being filled at capacity. I asked if the heat was an obstacle throughout the night for him.

“No, I loved it. It helps you work up a good sweat and I always put in work anyways.”
It was a big deal for the local native, and the night as a whole was not lost on him.

“After years of perfecting their craft in other states and all over the world, the Richmond boys wanted to come together for one night to give the friends and family of our hometown something to talk about-a night to remember. We sold out of tickets hours before the event began and what looks like it may have just been a one-off thing is now becoming Richmond's hottest thing. We've started something here now and we will be back.”

The main event kicked off when Logan Easton Laroux came out to face the ire of the capital of a blue state. He spoke the gospel of the Gated Community, the word of the wealthy, the preaching of the privileged…. but the crowd was NOT having it. Myself and Ed Dao raised our One Percent foam fingers proudly and the room turned on us, but we managed to elicit pretty impressive chants for being only two guys. I don’t ever look to make myself part of the show but I was just enjoying the moment.  

Now I will admit I don’t have as many videos or this match because I was doing a rare Facebook Live for most of it. If we’re friends on Facebook, you know where to find it. But Logan soaked in the boos and jeers, and Daniel used the adulation of the crowd to help propel him to victory. Logan’s aerial offense was nonexistent with the low-ceiling, so he used a resourceful moveset to give Richards’ agenda a run for its money. He was on the offensive for most of the match and even hit his trademark cutter at one point. He would test Chris Sharpe when he laid his hands on him, so Sharpe took Logan to the woodshop with a number of chops and a Ric Flair strut. Shortly after, Richards hit a chokeslam on Logan. Logan would try and fight back until this happened:

Needless to say, Laroux was none to pleased after the match and didn't mince words:

With the victory in hand, The Progressive Liberal grabbed the mic to thank the fans for a hell of a night:

 I’d follow up with Richards, and he was still basking in the feeling twelve hours later.

“Last night was a tribute. It was a tribute to our city and its culture. It was a tribute to the independent scene that existed here before and a toast to the future of pro wrestling here.”

Once the show ended, it was good to catch up with friends and let the room empty so we could actually breathe. Everyone was in good spirits. Some- like us- would begin the trek home, while others would go up to the rooftop and celebrate the night with drinks and merriment. I did not speak to a single person or see anything later on social media that reflected anything but positive thoughts/feelings about the show.

On this night, while the competitors would look to finish with the victory- wins wouldn’t matter as much as the effect it had on the fans and keeping them intrigued for their next return. The theatrics and athleticism of professional wrestling were the true victor, and the city would once again roar in appreciation following Richards’ post-match speech. After witnessing it firsthand, there’s no reason to believe they can’t do it again.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.

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