A new tradition was born nine years ago that honors Buffalo’s wrestling past and connects it to independent wrestling’s modern-day stars. This trophy match links its winner to one of the Queen City’s most recognized wrestling names. This is the history of The llio DiPaolo Memorial Cup.
On November 20, 2013, the first Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Cup match took place at the Kenan Center in Lockport, N.Y. at Empire State Wrestling’s WrestleBash 2013. The match featured six combatants who quested for the trophy in the inaugural bout. Along with the DiPaolo Cup itself, the winner also received an ESW title match whenever they chose.
The idea of the DiPaolo Cup match was crafted by ESW owner Brett Stymus. He thought it would be a good way to bring an unexpected element to ESW events.
“I thought the DiPaolo Cup would help with adding in the factor of surprise to events because you never know if or when the cash-in will be coming,” he said. “The part that clicked came during the time when World Wrestling Entertainment was really the only promotion around that most mainstream wrestling fans were watching.
I remember watching Dolph Ziggler and Randy Orton both having huge Money in the Bank cash-ins and the emotion and excitement in the fan reactions in 2013 and thought ‘yep, that’s it’ and quickly went into planning.”
The match starts with two entrants in the ring, with the preceding wrestlers entering within time intervals, similar to a rumble match. Wrestlers can be eliminated at any time via pin-fall, submission or knockout.
“I was also always a fan of the random wrestler who is coming out next when I would watch the Royal Rumble, which is how I came up with starting the match with two competitors and then every two minutes another competitor enters,” Stymus said.
“I also liked the idea of seeing the last man left standing in the ring after the other five were eliminated to be awarded as the DiPaolo Cup winner.”
When booking the DiPaolo Cup match, Stymus likes to include wrestlers with a variety of backgrounds in it.
“When trying to think of competitors for the DiPaolo Cup, I always look at wrestlers who can bring a different style of wrestling to the match to make it as unique as possible,” he said.
“It kind of also puts me back into the seat as a fan to see what six highly skilled competitors will do to try and come out as the winner and future cup holder.”
The DiPaolo Cup match is held on ESW’s WrestleBash events. These are traditionally the promotion’s year-end “super show”.
“At the time, Wrestlebash was the biggest ESW show of the year, and I thought that would be the best time to showcase it,” Stymus said. “Since the first DiPaolo Cup match, the entire ESW company as a whole has grown.
The DiPaolo Cup match could potentially turn into its own stand-out event but for the time being, it’s a good way for us to close out the year and give fans an exciting look and a ‘wild card’ in the back of their minds going into the next year.”
The Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Cup
– The DiPaolo Legacy
The cup’s namesake, Ilio DiPaolo, is one of the most well-known wrestlers connected to the Buffalo-Niagara region. After being born in Italy and wrestling in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, DiPaolo relocated to Buffalo in 1951. He won the National Wrestling Alliance Canadian Open Tag Team Championships with Whipper Billy Watson and wrestled twice for the NWA World Championship against Pat O’Connor and Lou Thesz.
After he retired from wrestling, he opened an Italian restaurant in Blasdell, N.Y. named after himself, simply called “Ilio DiPaolo’s”, that operates to this day. The restaurant is a popular stop for local wrestling fans as well as sports and wrestling legends when they come through the Buffalo area.
There is also a well-known scholarship fund in Ilio DiPaolo’s name. The fund awards scholarships to college-bound athletes, with an emphasis on those that wrestled in high school.
Along with DiPaolo, Stymus also considered another local wrestling legend as the Cup’s honoree.
“It was really a toss-up between Ilio DiPaolo and Dick Beyer,” he said. “Any wrestling fans that know the history of wrestlers of Western New York will know those two names always stand out and bring history to the area. It was an honor to be given permission to use the Ilio DiPaolo name for the Cup.”
The Match History
Unlike other wrestling customs, the DiPaolo Cup’s heritage persisted and grew over time. At ESW’s upcoming event, WrestleBash XII, a ninth cup victor will add their name to a prestigious list of prior winners that include some of Western New York’s top local stars and two current members of All-Elite Wrestling.
Even some of the names that unsuccessfully attempted to take home the DiPaolo Cup are noteworthy. Along with current AEW workers, several past WWE stars were also in these matches.
The participants in the first DiPaolo Cup match were current All-Elite Wrestling stars Trent Berreta and R.J. City, current WWE star Johnny Gargano and ESW regulars “The Patron Saint of Professional Wrestling” Brandon Thurston, “Inferno” Johnny Adams and Kamryn Akasha Blaque (formerly known as “The Bull of Black Mountain” Gabreal Saint).
Beretta won the match, and the cup was presented to him afterward by Ilio DiPaolo’s son, Dennis.
Beretta used his title opportunity at Brawlfest 2014 during the ESW Heavyweight Championship match between Chris Cooper and Thurston. The opportunity was squandered as Cooper won the match and retained the title.
The second DiPaolo Cup match consisted of current AEW star “All Ego” Ethan Page, ex-WWE star Colin Delaney, ex-Impact Wrestling star Stone Rockwell (formerly known as Asylum), Gargano, plus ESW staples Will Calrissian and Thurston. Calrissian was victorious in this rendition.
Calrissian became the first DiPaolo Cup winner to successfully win the ESW Heavyweight Championship with the given opportunity. At Meltdown 2015, Calrissian faced Gargano but the match was stopped due to a potential knee injury to Calrissian.
This turned out to be fake, as Calrissian ran through the crowd during the main event of “Big Time” Bill Collier versus ex-WWE NXT and Ring of Honor star “The Knockout Artist” Chris Hero to cash-in his title shot and win the belt.
At WrestleBash VI, the third DiPaolo Cup match featured ESW’s homegrown talent. AEW star “The Blade” Pepper Parks, Dick Justice, “The Remix” Kevin Bennett, Collier, Cooper and Thurston were in the match. Collier came away with the win.
After this show, Impact’s Cody Deaner stole the DiPaolo Cup from Collier and taunted him over several months before Collier beat him at Brawlfest 2016 to retain possession for good. Collier used his title shot at Meltdown 2016 to beat Calrissian for the Heavyweight title.
The fourth DiPaolo Cup match took place at WrestleBash VII. City won the bout over ex-ROH stars Ricky Reyes and Cheech plus Bennett, Parks and Thurston. City used the title opportunity to beat Collier at Brawlfest 2017 to open the night.
For the 2017 rendition of the DiPaolo Cup match, wrestlers competed in qualifier matches for the first time.
At Wrestle Brothers in October, the five qualifier matches consisted of “Hybrid” Sean Carr beating “Your Captain” Nick Ando, “The Aesthetic Crippler” Kevin Blackwood defeating Adams, Bennett besting “The Gift” Jason Kincaid, “His Royal Freshness” Frankie Feathers and Page battling to a double countout and Collier outlasting Ryan Cassidy, “The Big Bang” Jerk Cockins, Vinnie Moon and James Sayga in a gauntlet match.
At WrestleBash VII, current AEW star Matt Sydal was placed in the Cup match and “The Inspiration” Gregory Iron won the Last Chance Battle Royal to secure the final spot. Bennett won the match and cashed in the title opportunity the same night during the City-Parks title match to win the Heavyweight belt.
Qualifiers for the 2018 DiPaolo Cup were held in October at Overdrive. These bouts consisted of Thurston beating ex-Impact star Ace Romero, Carr winning against J.T. Dunn, Blackwood beating Beretta and AEW star Daniel Garcia winning a fatal four-way over Tarik, Randy Philbrick and Andy Cravatta. Ex-ROH star “The Professional” Rhett Titus was also placed into the match.
At WrestleBash IX, ex-WWE star Kenny Dykstra won the Last Chance Battle Royal for the final spot. He outlasted ex-ROH star Cloudy, Bennett, “Sparkle Hunter” Kate Carney, “Moonlight Son” Mike Skyros, “Silver Teeth Satan” Atticus Cogar, Philbrick, Cravatta and Tarik. Thurston won the DiPaolo Cup match, coming down to him and his former student Garcia.
You can read about this emotional final sequence of the match here:
Thurston cashed in his title opportunity at the next show in January 2019, Night at the Johnsburg. He was originally scheduled to face Garcia, but the match was nixed after Garcia was injured in the Buffalo Brothers car accident prior to the event. Thurston beat Parks to become the new Heavyweight Champion that night with Garcia looking on in the audience.
The 2019 DiPaolo Cup qualifiers took place at Overdrive in September. The matches included Cogar beating Bennett, Puf defeating Page and newly signed AEW star A.R. Fox beating “Blue Thunder” Jay Freddie. Collier won against a surprise opponent in Blackwood, who made his return from injuries suffered in the Buffalo Brothers car accident. Thurston was also added to the match.
Blackwood won the Last Chance Battle Royal at WrestleBash X to gain the last spot before winning the DiPaolo Cup match itself. He became the first person to win the battle royal and Cup match on the same night.
Blackwood held onto the DiPaolo Cup throughout the COVID-19 pause. After Garcia successfully defended the Heavyweight title against ex-Impact and ROH star Davey Richards at 4th and Gold in October 2021, Blackwood appeared on the video screen announcing he will use his title opportunity at WrestleBash XI for Garcia’s belt.
Blackwood captured the title in a match that was critically acclaimed and nominated for IndependentWrestling.TV’s Match of the Year Award.
That same night, another DiPaolo Cup winner was crowned. “Invincible” Vince Valor defeated ex-WWE star “The Drama King” Matthew Rehwoldt (formerly known as Aiden English), Impact’s Josh Alexander, “Neon Ninja” Facade, Matthew Justice, and Collier to win the Cup.
Valor spent a good chunk of 2022 successfully defending the Cup in a string of singles matches. At Spring Breakdown in March, he defeated “Big League” John McChesney. At Brawlfest in May, he beat “The Prize” Alec Price. At Black & Blue in June, he scored a win over Ace Perry. His fourth defense saw him best ex-ROH star “The Ace of Space” LSG at 20 in August.
At Overdrive in October, Valor utilized his title opportunity during the Blackwood versus Bennett match for the Heavyweight title. Valor was unable to win the belt after being hit over the head with a bottle by Feathers, which allowed Bennett to score the pinfall and title victory.
The Next Match
The 2022 DiPaolo Cup will continue the tradition of mixing notable names with ESW regulars at WrestleBash XII on November 25 at Buffalo RiverWorks in Buffalo, N.Y. This year’s match will consist of longtime ROH star Delirious, ex-WWE NXT star Madman Fulton, Game Changer Wrestling star Cole Radrick, plus ESW staples Iron and Freddie.
The Last Chance Battle Royal will make its return at WrestleBash XII. The participants announced for it so far are Jeremiah Richter, American Strong Style, Robby Vegas, “Tasty” Keenan Moore, Max Cannon, Valor, Moon, and Sayga.
Valor aspires to be the next person to win the DiPaolo Cup and cash it in on the same night to win the Heavyweight title. Watch his interview about it with Chris Gullo below:
Stymus aspires for the DiPaolo Cup match to be viewed as something prestigious not just to local wrestling fans but also on a broader scale. Fans outside the Buffalo area will be able to catch the DiPaolo Cup match when WrestleBash XII airs live on IndependentWrestling.TV (IWTV).