Over the last two months we’ve all learned the hard way that being a WWE fan is bordering on being a full-time job. On even the lightest weeks we are required to watch seven hours of wrestling programming. With the double duty of writing a weekly column and hosting a weekly podcast, I am left with little choice but to watch all of it. That leaves very little, if any time for promotions I really enjoy like Ring of Honor or New Japan and even less for promotions and talent I’d like to check out. WWE may be the biggest player in the game, but far from the only player in the game.
Luckily on a rare day off from WWE I got to spend some time at the famed 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia for Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore 18. This was my second HOH show after attending HOH 13 back in April. Like the previous show, this day started with the Icons Of Wrestling Convention. I stood in about a 45 minute line to meet Bret Hart and had him sign one side of my replica Winged Eagle belt. One side is signed in gold by Shawn Michaels and Bret signed the other side in his signature pink. It is arguably the coolest thing I’ve ever owned. More than the autograph, I am struck by the brief interaction we had.
Admittedly, I was always more of an HBK fan and at times I’ve thought Bret has been a little too negative about some of today’s talent, but 30 seconds washed all that away. Here I was, face to face with this legend who has just spent the last three hours signing memorabilia and posing for pictures. After he signed the belt, I looked him in the eye, shook his hand and simply thanked him for everything he’d done for us. I wished him all the best in the future and he looked directly back in the eye, paused for a few seconds and he replied with, “Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate that.”
I don’t know if he remembered that interaction even 10 seconds after it ended, but in the moment it felt incredibly meaningful. It felt like a genuine moment shared by two people on different sides of a fence. I was thankful for the effort he had put in to entertain me for so many years. He was thankful for the fact that I appreciated what he had done and still cared for him after all this time. I can’t say for sure it meant that to him, but that is what it meant to me and I will be forever grateful for that moment.
In other areas of the arena fans flocked merchandise tables to enhance their wrestling memorabilia collections. Others flocked to meet performers like Sting, the Steiner Brothers, Raven, Ted DiBiase and even the newly famous James Ellsworth. I’ve mentioned before that the negativity in the crowd at SummerSlam ruined the event for me and honestly I’ve sort of had a WWE hangover ever since. But the energy in these types of gatherings is exactly the cure. The fans are all excited to see their heroes up close and share a quick moment with them, as well as having a blast meeting and hanging out with each other. I can’t seem to go to one of these things without making a couple new friends in the process. I said this in my HOH column back in April and I will say it again. This is what wrestling is all about.
As far as the show was concerned, I had a blast at HOH 13. There were great matches, great young talent I was introduced to and a lot of nostalgia from our wrestling past. I figured HOH 18 would be good, but that it would be tough to match my previous experience. I couldn’t be more excited to tell you how wrong I was. House Of Hardcore 18 not only matched its last show in Philly, but exceeded it. I can’t really recall even one lull in the action throughout the night. On top of that I spent various parts of the show laughing, crying, on the edge of my seat from the incredible action and on my feet cheering in appreciation for the performers in the ring.
Starting with the laughs, one of my favorite heels not in WWE is Eddie Kingston. He has this ability to just be the most annoying guy in the room, no matter who is in the room with him. He doesn’t bare any sort of physical resemblance to The Miz, but he has that uncanny ability to get under a crowd’s skin. I have a strict “no booing” policy when it comes to wrestlers, but as he walked by my seat I booed him in the hopes of getting a reaction. He did not disappoint as he called me a jerk-off, causing an eruption of laughter among myself, my friends and the rest of the section around me. While their 6-Man Tag Match was great in its own right, Eddie can steal the show while simply standing on the ring apron.
The three men opposing Kingston’s team were the highly entertaining and unorthodox take team of Dan Barry and Bill Carr, also known as Team Tremendous along with newcomer Connor Braxton. Braxton added to the laughs with his use of a hoverboard for some of the slowest to develop offensive moves I’ve ever seen. As a child of the 80’s and a fan of Back To The Future I’ve always hated those things being referred to as hoverboards, but this match helped redeem them a little bit for me. In the end, Kingston, Vik Dalishus and TJ Marconi came out on top with the stipulation that Bill Carr would have to leave HOH. I’m not sure if he or Team Tremendous have been signed elsewhere, but they could certainly fill a spot in any promotion.
The tears came in when Tommy Dreamer brought Terry Funk out to the ring to say goodbye to the fans at 2300 Arena, formerly known as ECW Arena. Funk had some legendary moments in that building and had a great connections with the fans in Philadelphia. Funk cut a promo to tell us how much he loved this place, to tell us goodbye and to tell us that we were the greatest fans in the world before leading a classic ECW chant and embracing Tommy. There weren’t many dry eyes in the house, including mine obviously. An enormous “Thank You Terry” chant broke out as he exited the ring, possibly for the final time.
I was on the edge of my seat for the matches between CWC standout Tony Nese vs. Chris Hero and Sami Callahan vs. Ricochet. In the column I wrote about HOH 13 I specifically mentioned how impressive Nese was and that he was someone to watch out for. The world got a look at him on the WWE Network this summer and he was even more impressive in this match with Hero, who is about six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. What is so impressive about Nese is that he has the athleticism to do everything you expect of a Cruiserweight but the strength to do things a Heavyweight should be doing. As imposing as Hero is, Nese looked like he belonged in the fight with him. While Hero was victorious, Nese was given a huge ovation and should be enjoying a surge in popularity.
One of the moments I was looking most forward to was the opportunity to see Ricochet in person for the first time. I had only seen his match with Will Ospreay prior to Saturday night. This is not to slight Callahan, formerly known as Solomon Crowe on NXT. On the contrary, I’ve seen Callahan live a handful of times and he always brings it and puts on a great performance, so I was excited to see Ricochet in the ring with him. He won the Philly crowd over with his new Philadelphia Eagles inspired trunks and even more so with his unbelievable ability in the ring. This was a hard hitting match that blew the roof off the building. Ricochet won with his incredible 630° Senton. For all the hype around Ricochet over the past few months, it is all warranted and I can’t wait to see more of him in the future.
Now onto the segment that had me on my feet cheering in admiration. The moment I was most looking forward to was Tommy Dreamer’s match with Broken Matt Hardy. It’s always a treat to watch Tommy Dreamer in Philadelphia because he genuinely cares so much about this city and its fans, on top of the fact that he is responsible for bringing us this incredible show. Matt Hardy was a treat in himself as he has become probably the most talked about talent in the industry outside of WWE. He has taken this character that is part performance art, part absurdist comedy and part psychology project. Hearing his music hit, seeing his face upon the lights coming on and his entourage of Reby Sky, Senior Benjamin and his Scribe were a highlight of the night.
Broken Matt and his Broken Brilliance had the crowd erupting in “DELETE! DELETE! DELETE!” chants throughout the match. It is always fun being in a crowd anticipating the fun and ridiculous things we can do as a group. They cut highly entertaining dueling promos on each other before putting on a really great match that saw blood from a bite out of Dreamer’s hand, a drone come to ringside, fireworks set off on Dreamer’s body, the returns of Beulah, Raven and Sandman as well as a surprise appearance by Bubba Ray Dudley after Broken Matt had defeated Tommy with a Twist of Fate with his head wedged into a chair.
Bubba came down to the ring as Hardy tried to flee, but he wouldn’t allow him to leave without issuing a challenge. Bubba set up the first-ever House Of Hardcore Steel Cage Match for the December 16 return to Philadelphia between Tommy Dreamer and Broken Matt Hardy. Anyone that hadn’t already bought tickets ran to the box office after hearing that announcement.
After the event ended I had the pleasure of meeting an up-and-coming women’s wrestler by the name of Katred The Clockwork Angel as well as a few minutes to thank Tony Nese, Ricochet and Tommy Dreamer for their efforts. It really is such a small environment that encourages interaction between the performers and the fans and both sides seem to appreciate the other equally.
I could have probably written triple the length about this event, but my ultimate goal is just to say once again that House Of Hardcore is truly what pro wrestling is all about. There are performers who are out there killing themselves to put on a great show, who are interacting with the fans in an incredibly intimate setting and a crowd that is there for the sole purpose of giving their all right back to the performers. Most of all House Of Hardcore has a promoter in Tommy Dreamer who loves the business and wants to get as many eyes on as many performers as possible while entertaining the hell out of the fans.
After the negativity I experienced in Brooklyn, HOH at 2300 Arena was exactly what I needed. So Tommy Dreamer, thank you for your effort, thank you for House Of Hardcore and thank you so much for caring so much about my city. I know you have felt it for over 20 years but I have to say it anyway, we love you as much as you love us. Thank you for an amazing night and I can’t wait to see you again in December.
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