RAISING THE CURTAIN

With less than a week to go until Wrestle Carnival’s historic Curtain Call in Nottingham, play-by-play commentator Dave Bradshaw gives his thoughts on what promises to be an unforgettable opening night…

Expect the unexpected. If I had one piece of advice for fans travelling to Nottingham for Curtain Call on Sunday it would be to be prepared for the possibility that anything could happen at the inaugural event for Wrestle Carnival. After all, many of the athletes you’re going to see will barely have been in a competitive match for almost a year and a half - and almost certainly not in the Lion’s Den atmosphere of an arena packed with fans. Who has honed their skills most intensely during this crazy time? Who has been able to scrape off the ring rust in time for the big show? Who, most of all, has realised during the pandemic that their hunger for success is burning more fiercely than ever? We may well get some important clues about the future of the British wrestling scene when it all comes together at the Portland Centre.

On a personal level, it’s a big night too - I haven’t commentated in front of a live crowd since right before the start of the pandemic and my most recent live show was, of all places, in Nottingham. It’s a city that holds a special place in my heart as I’ve been fortunate to bear witness to some unforgettable moments of wrestling history there during the past few years. I fully expect that I, along with everyone else in attendance, will get to see some more great memories being made on 1st August. I feel weird saying this but I’m even excited to sit with James R. Kennedy at the commentary booth again… although admittedly this might be because I plan to collect the money he borrowed from me for “business ventures” during lockdown. I fully expect him to show up with an empty wallet and a brand new sparkly jacket.

Looking through Sunday’s card it’s almost impossible to guess who might end up stealing the show, but I wouldn’t bet against it being one or more of the competitors in our stacked women’s division. It speaks volumes that when our fans were given the option to choose a match for Curtain Call they landed on a four-way match between four of the most exciting young talents in the country: Lizzy Evo is someone I know very well from her days in Defiant Wrestling - an aggressive fighter who is so intense that it’s genuinely intimidating to be ringside when she’s in action - she’s already been picking up championship gold in other promotions since things have opened up in the UK, and she’s going to be very hard to beat. That being said, if anyone can then Skye Smitson might be the one to do it - for my money she was one of the names in British wrestling who were really on the rise before everything stopped, and if she can recreate the momentum she had gained by the spring of 2020 then all bets are off. The wildcards in this match are Ivy and Heidi Katrina, who are both something of an unknown quantity to me although I have heard great things in both cases. As with almost everything on this show, it’s a fool’s game to try and guess how this match will pan out - especially now that the CATCH Pro Wrestling Women’s Title is the prize for the winner, meaning that all four women will want to win at all costs.

That’s equally true of the match between Session Moth Martina and Gisele Shaw. I’m elated that Martina will be joining us for our celebration of British wrestling in Nottingham - after all, what kind of party is it without the Session Moth?! Interestingly though, beneath all the fun and games she’s actually a very competitive young woman. I understand why a lot of fans are predicting a win for the ever-impressive Shaw who seems to be on a trajectory towards the very top of the industry, but she - and we - underestimate Martina at our peril. I see a similar underdog story in the match between Chris Ridgeway and Jay Joshua, by the way: the smashmouth style of Ridgeway has scored him a well-earned reputation not only as one of the most dangerous men in British wrestling but in combat sports as a whole. For all of his potential, Joshua, therefore, enters this bout with some would-be experts predicting a rough day at the office for him, but again I would urge caution: like everyone else Joshua will be looking at this as the beginning of a new era in our industry, and it’s an era where he plans to claim a leading role.

Part of the intrigue surrounding Wrestle Carnival comes from its promise to do things differently, and nowhere is this more evident than the six-man gauntlet match at Curtain Call, where one of the competitors will be a fan who is deemed to be wearing the best fancy dress. This harkens back to the carnivals of old where members of the public were able to roll up and test their ability against strongmen wrestlers - except in this 21st Century version, the “lucky” fan won’t be up against one opponent but five. Of these, Charles Crowley might be the one who has turned the most heads during lockdown, thanks to his brilliant (and bizarre) “You Are Cordially Invited” mass brawl on New Year’s Eve that was enjoyed by fans around the world. I can’t get my head around Crowley - he has a truly unique charisma to him, but something about him makes me nervous. Undoubtedly his unorthodox approach makes it hard for his opponents to formulate a game-plan, but this probably won’t worry Lion Kid, who is a veteran of the scene and has seen it all in his time - this will be the first time I have called one of his matches in over a decade, and I’m very excited to do it. Of the other three announced for the match, Terry Isit has always impressed whenever I’ve seen him live, while this will be my first time seeing the other two guys: I know Jerry Bakewell is another one-of-a-kind personality who will add even more quirks to an already unusual match, while Hari Singh is someone whose matches I have wanted to call for a while - he’s rightly being talked about as a future star, so it will be fascinating to see if he can rise to the occasion in Nottingham.

I have a little bit more of an idea of what to expect from the other multi-man match on the card - and what I’m expecting is absolute chaos. If someone asked you to put together a contest that would take your breath away, you would struggle to find four better-suited names than Callum Newman, Joe Lando, Maverick Mayhew and Danny Black. All four are high-flying daredevils who are part of a new wave of talent that is sweeping the UK: Newman had been so impressive before the pandemic that WrestleTalk granted him a scholarship to help him fulfil his destiny as a megastar; the first time I saw Lando and Mayhew in action I literally ran out of superlatives to describe the action that was happening before my eyes; and Danny Black has been, in my view, one of the biggest revelations for Progress Wrestling since their recent return to action. In fact, Black might be the favourite to win the match, but I realise that by saying that I am not doing him any favours because it will simply fire up his opponents even more. Goodness me, I can’t wait for this one!

The other two matches on the card are both excellent dark horse picks to be the thing that everyone is talking about on their journeys home after the show: I don’t think I’ve seen a review of any match featuring Warren Banks or Elijah in recent years that has not raved about their abilities, so I’m excited to see them lock horns with each other and work out who’s the better wrestler. Meanwhile, I can vouch that Charlie Sterling and Brady Phillips are both among the best pure athletes on the UK scene, but I’ve never seen them compete against each other and I’m just as fascinated as everyone else to see what happens when they do. Much like the rest of the card, this has the feel of some mad professor (in this case promoter Gary Ward) pouring two combustible elements into the same flask and waiting to see what the explosion looks like.

I realise this article has been very light on actual predictions for who I think is likely to walk out victorious from any of Sunday’s seven scheduled contests - my apologies to anyone who was hoping to get some hot betting tips. But I really think we’re stepping into a great unknown on Sunday - even the wrestlers themselves don’t honestly know how they will perform until they get there and feel the energy of the crowd. Nonetheless, I’ll conclude with one absolutely nailed-on prediction that you can take to the bank: for the talent, the crew and the fans alike, being back at a live show will be unlike any feeling that any of us have had for the past year and a half. Let’s do this...

Tickets - www.wtlive.wrestlingtravel.org/product/curtain-call-sunday-1st-august-2021/