When former World Wrestling Entertainment stars make appearances on an independent wrestling event, they typically generate the biggest buzz around the show.
But at Empire State Wrestling’s WrestleBash XIII, happening this Friday at Buffalo RiverWorks, the biggest spotlight will be shined on two of the promotion’s top homegrown talents in the main event is headlined by a Steel Cage Clash.
ESW Heavyweight Champion Kevin Bennett will defend the title against Vince Valor in a steel cage match. The highly anticipated bout is the capstone of a year-long feud between the two competitors.
Entering the bout, Valor feels confident in his chances of obtaining his first ESW singles title.
Steel Cage Clash Headlines ESW’s WrestleBash XIII
“Believe it or not, I am the only full-time member of the ESW roster who has never had a one-on-one match for any singles championship in this company,”
“This Friday night, everything changes. I make the most out of that opportunity, by becoming the new ESW Heavyweight Champion.”
Despite being the top contender for the ESW Heavyweight Championship, Bennett does not consider Valor to be on the same level as himself.
“I respect Vince and all of his contributions to the Western New York wrestling scene, but in my honest opinion, in no shape or form is he ready to become ESW Heavyweight Champion,”
– Kevin Bennett.
“I’ve wrestled talent from all over the world. I’ve hung in the ring with the best of the best. I’ve held championships for over 1,000 days. Vince has been around quite some time.
He’s held some championships, even picked up a few notable wins under his belt. But even so, he isn’t on my level and won’t be for a very long time. He just isn’t ESW Heavyweight Champion material.”
The Path to the Cage
The roots of the Bennett-Valor rivalry were planted in October 2022 at Overdrive when Valor used his 2021 Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Cup title shot opportunity during a match between Bennett and then champion Kevin Blackwood.
Valor failed to capture the title thanks to his former friend Frank Feathers hitting him with a beer bottle, allowing Bennett to score the victory and the belt.
The next month, Valor entered the Last Chance Battle Royal at WrestleBash XII with his sights set on gaining the final spot in the DiPaolo Cup match and another title opportunity. He overcame a bounty that Bennett placed on Valor’s head and became the last entrant.
However, Bennett and his crew of Feathers and the Oliver Street Express jumped Valor in the entranceway before entering the match and shot a fireball in his face. Bennett seized Valor’s spot and won the 2022 DiPaolo Cup while also holding the ESW Heavyweight Championship in unprecedented fashion.
After feuding with Feathers throughout the Spring of 2023 and eventually beating him in a brutal dog collar match at Brawlfest 2023, Valor reset his vision on capturing the belt from Bennett.
Bennett successfully defended the title against Bill Collier, Mike Bailey, and Space Monkey during that time frame. He dropped it briefly to Matt Cardona before winning it immediately back from him using his DiPaolo Cup opportunity at Brawlfest. All these victories came with lots of help from his crew.
Valor demanded a title shot against Bennett at Friday Night Heat. Bennett refused to grant him the opportunity which led to a melee that led to Valor pairing with a man that he considers to be his close brother in Collier to face Bennett and his hired security for the night, Tito Oric.
Valor and Collier scored the win and joined forces again at Mayhem at the McCarthy to challenge High Seas for the ESW Tag Team Championship.
Valor and Collier were unable to beat the titleholders for the gold that night due to interference by Bennett. The duo later inserted themselves in Bennett’s title defense against Cheech at that event as a form of payback.
After Bennett retained, he announced there would be a No. 1 contender match for the ESW Heavyweight Championship at Turn It Up between Valor and Collier. Whoever won the match would receive a title opportunity at WrestleBash XIII.
Despite their close relationship, Valor and Collier viciously fought each other. The action became so intense, with Collier eventually spearing Valor off the ring apron through a ringside table.
The fall caused significant damage to Valor’s shoulder, and the match was almost stopped for medical treatment before Collier reentered the ring and ordered a 10-count to begin. Valor mustered the strength to reenter the squared circle before being counted out.
Somehow Valor found the resilience to defeat Collier and officially became the new top contender. After the match, Valor upped the ante for his impending match with Bennett by declaring it would occur in a steel cage.
Thoughts Entering the Cage
With the ring surrounded by the cage, Valor will seek to get his hands on the champ without any interference from any of Bennett’s associates and give himself the fairest possible title opportunity that he sought over the last year.
“Kevin Bennett has all the natural ability in the world, to be considered one of the greatest champions this company has seen. But instead, he’s employed the help of his goons to escape with that championship time and time again,” Valor said.
“At WrestleBash, there is no escape. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Bennett’s boys can’t save him any longer. It’s time for him to take accountability for his actions and face his fears.
There’s nothing left to take from someone who’s lost everything. Neither one of us will walk out of this cage the same.”
Despite the added stipulation, Bennett believes he will extend Valor’s bad fortune rather than drop the belt in the main event.
“Over the course of this past year, Vince has always seemed to get the sh*t end of the stick over and over again,” Bennett said. “To be honest, if I were him, I would’ve quit a long time ago. But maybe that’s why they call him ‘Invincible’?
For some reason, the guy just doesn’t break. He doesn’t stay down. As pathetic as he may seem, the guy doesn’t stop pushing forward. I’ll give him credit there but if I have to be honest, this Friday is just going to be another traumatic chapter in Vince’s unfortunate and depressing storybook.”
You can watch a recap video of the Bennett-Valor feud here:
Former WWE star Heath Slater will be in action at WrestleBash XIII. Heath, who is fresh out of his contract with IMPACT Wrestling, will square off against current Impact star Crazzy Steve. This will be a homecoming for Crazzy Steve, as he last competed in an ESW ring in 2006.
The 2023 Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Cup will celebrate its 10th anniversary by featuring roster staples and another ex-WWE star. National Wrestling Alliance’s Chris Adonis, formerly known as Chris Masters with WWE, will make his ESW debut in the match.
Also yearning for the DiPaolo Cup will be ESW regulars Gregory Iron, James Sayga, Collier, and the returning Channing Decker.
The final DiPaolo Cup spot will go to the winner of the Last Chance Battle Royal. The entrants include all members of Edge of Hope, Matt McCoy, CXR, Robby Vegas, Vinnie Moon, American Strong Style, Tommy K, Sebastian Braun, and Feathers.
The ESW Tag Team Championship will be on the line in a four-way match. High Seas will defend the belts against CXR, To Infinity & Beyond plus Mattick and Darren Crowe of Edge of Hope. High Seas will seek to continue their title reign after defeating Waves & Curls at Turn It Up.
A women’s triple threat match is set between Christina Marie, Haley Dylan, and Vanna Black. This is Marie’s first match back in ESW since Friday Night Heat when she beat Dylan and Catie Brite in ESW’s first-ever women’s triple threat match.
Dylan took on Taylor Rising at Turn it Up in her most recent ESW bout. Black, a staple of the Ontario, Canada wrestling scene, will make her ESW debut in the match.
Also on the card will be the returning NWA wrestler Spencer Slade. A mainstay of the Pittsburgh indie wrestling scene, Slade’s previous ESW appearance was against Brandon Thurston in 2021.
A food drive will be held to benefit Hearts for the Homeless. Any fan that provides a non-perishable food or hygiene item donation will be entered to win a pair of tickets to ESW’s next event.
Hearts for the Homeless are encouraging fans to donate jarred gravy, boxed macaroni & cheese, boxed potatoes, and canned vegetables.
WrestleBash XIII will be broadcast live on IndependentWrestling.TV. Spring Smash, Friday Night Heat, and Mayhem at the McCarthy are now available on IWTV, as well.
Premium tickets are sold out but general admission tickets are still available at the pre-sale price on ESWTIX.com until Friday. Ticket prices at the door rise by $5. Doors open at 6 p.m., with the opening bell and livestream starting at 7 p.m.
The official WrestleBash XIII afterparty will be held at Cook’s Bar & Grill, located at 333 Katherine Street in Buffalo.