Brawlfest | The Jarkaster Journey

Hello, everybody! In my next installment of my comings-and-goings as a referee in the independent wrestling scene, I will go into detail on my experiences at Empire State Wrestling’s “ Brawlfest ” in North Tonawanda, N.Y.

My story starts the day before Empire State Wrestling’s (ESW) biggest event of the spring. That Friday, I received a PET scan to evaluate my ongoing medical condition (thankfully everything turned out fine). Due to the substances required to administer the scan, I was considered to be radioactive afterward and was restricted from being around infants, small children, and pregnant women for 24 hours. Thus, I could not go home to be with my daughter that night as usual and needed to sleep overnight at my parent’s house.

With not much going on at my parent’s house, I finished up some public relations things I needed to work on. I published the newest episode of “Inside the Empire” featuring Brandon Thurston, posted on some Rochester-area event calendars about ESW’s return to Fairport, N.Y. on June 1 and put together the first draft of the press release for ESW’s first ever event in Cuba, N.Y.

You can listen to Thurston’s episode here:

After accomplishing that and realizing there were no other restrictions on me, I decided to head to the St. Johnsburg Fire Hall and help step up for the next day’s show. Normally with my wife at work, I spend most of my weeknights with just my daughter, therefore making it next to impossible for me to do ring crew on Fridays (it would be much harder for everyone with a toddler running around getting into trouble). So since my mom was watching her with me being radioactive, I decided to utilize my availability and give a hand.

As laborious as setting up a wrestling ring may sound, I ended up enjoying the process. Doing it the night before allowed us not to be in a big rush to get it done as fast as possible, so we could be more laid back and socialize a bit while we set things up. Brawlfest.

As an adult with a young family, over the last few months, I began to notice my social life is greatly diminished from what it used to be pre-parenthood. It is harder to see a lot of your friends and family that you used to or would like to see, and increasingly subjected to people you are forced to interact with without a choice. Alas, to spend an extended amount of time with people that I sincerely want to be around for once was something I relished.

Kevin Bennett showed up later on and brought his baby daughter. My first instinct was to run up and say hi as I did not meet her yet, but then I quickly remembered that I needed to stay the hell away. I felt so bad about this. I felt like I was a huge asshole for quarantining myself. On top of it, I began missing my own daughter and got further bummed out. It always amazes me how fatherhood generates these uniquely feeling emotions that you previously never felt.

The next day I came home and was so happy to be with my daughter and wife. The family was back together again! We spent most of the morning and afternoon walking around the village and got lunch at a small Greek cafe called The Village Greek Market that we were meaning to try (it was pretty good).

As I started preparing for the show, I received confirmation that we did not secure a photographer for Brawlfest. I decided to break out my DSLR camera from the closest and find someone at the show who take pictures. This was Brawlfest.

When I arrived, I said my hellos to everyone. Then I gave Bennett a hug and apologized and assured him I was no longer radioactive. I double checked with the promoter Brett Mednik to see if anyone was brought in to take photos. When he confirmed that there was nobody, I found Doug, a student from Grapplers Anonymous who saw his first in-ring action at the Southern Tier Wrestling show the prior weekend. He needed to help with the opening doors but was free afterward to take pictures during the show. So I showed him how to use the camera and adjusted the settings as recommended by ESW color commentator Matt Milan who used to do photography.

Before getting my referee gear on, ESW ring announcer Chris Gullo and I went outside and recorded a quick hype video on Facebook live in front of the long line waiting to get inside the hall. When I returned, I ate the meal I packed (which drew rave reviews for how healthy it was) and got on my garb. It was officially go-time at Brawlfest!

I will not go into detail about every match on the card (some of them, I simply did not get a chance to watch), but I did see the opening dark match between Vinnie Moon, Jerk Cockins, Sebastian Braun and “The Evil Genius” Mark Sterling. As a one-time philosophy major, I liked Sterling’s nickname as it reminded me of one of the most famous thought experiments within the field. When Moon pinned Sterling for the win, I turned to Thurston, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, and mentioned if Moon was actually Rene Decartes since he defeated The Evil Genius. He got a little kick of it.

The first match I reffed was between “Big Time” Bill Collier and Beyond Wrestling’s Josh Briggs. This opened up the main portion of the card and it certainly set a high bar for the rest of the matches that night. Briggs is probably the tallest wrestler I ever shared a ring with. The crowd devoured this match between these two titans. Collier finished Briggs with a maneuver that was different than what was called in the back. Regardless, I still knew to hit the three count and the crowd exploded as soon as my hand hit the mat for the final time at Brawlfest.

Photo Credit: Empire State Wrestling
I witnessed referees blow pinfalls before when the match does not play out exactly as it was planned beforehand (hell, I even made this mistake myself earlier in my career). However, I knew to stick with the flow of the match and always count to three (even if you accidentally hit it, you can always wave it off). It looks awful to scoop your hand up for no reason when both of the wrestler’s shoulders are still on the mat. If I did that, the whole match would be ruined, the heat would be on me and it would be super embarrassing for everyone involved.

After that, I watched ESW Tag Team Champions Vince Valor and James Sayga and Anthony Gaines face ESW Commissioner The Caesar, “Mastiff” Will Calrissian and the returning Chris Cooper. I was super pumped to watch this one as it featured ESW’s young talent against ESW’s old guard – the guys who were wrestling on ESW events when I was just a fan. Jonny Puma came out too and stood in the young talent’s corner. Then after a plancha spot that took everyone out, Kevin Grace made his shocking return too and helped the old guard win the match.

Afterward, Puma got on the microphone and talked about how the elder statesman should be respecting the new breed but then suddenly turned on Gaines, Sayga, and Valor. The old school ESW crew went on to deliver a vicious post-match beatdown on the trio which led to all of the other referees (including myself) to run out and attempt to break up. I really like where this angle is going and cannot wait to see what more will come from it.

I next reffed Handcrafted, the team of R.J. City and Gregory Iron, against The Universal Era, the team of youngsters Dakota Orion and Ryze. This was a solid match that saw The Universal Era pick up a somewhat surprising win. I do not think the fans expected them to get the victory.

Photo Credit: Empire State Wrestling
With this being Handcrafted’s third consecutive loss, this led to one of the funniest post-match segments I was a part of in some time. City and Iron went on to start a “feud” that was brutally funny in which I needed to keep the two of them separated for a few minutes before, well, the opposite of what you expect happened.

You can watch their confrontation here:

One additional tidbit on The Universal Era: the team also consists of Moon. When they were trying to come up with a gimmick name, I suggested “The Astro Alliance”, considering Orion and Moon are both celestial body references, and actually thought they would run with it. We were joking around in the back after the match and then suggested adding a fourth member to their group and calling themselves “The Four Spacemen”.

During intermission, I was not able to make it around the crowd as much as normal. Doug came to the back and told me he was nearly out of space on my camera. I started flipping through the pictures and realized there were ones almost 5 years old still on the memory card. I spent the duration of intermission in the back deleting many photos.

My last assignment for the night was Thurston defending the ESW Heavyweight Championship against Major League Wrestling’s Fred Yehi. Earlier in the night, Thurston asked me if my cardio was up for it. Although my health over the last few months was not at its best, I was still up for the challenge. I made it through the very physical and fast-paced match, although I ended up soundly worn out at the end.

I still think Thurston’s match against Mark Haskins last year was faster overall, but I was probably more tired after this one considering my conditioning was worse. Both matches are available on Powerslam.TV if you want to compare them.

After the bout, I looked for some water in the back but did not find any. Brett Vincent was acting as a runner for the night and told me he would get me some. When he came back, he tossed me a bottle of water from across the locker room while I was getting changed. I dropped the bottle right by one of the chairs Ultimo Dragon was used to stretch and meditate.

I was a little nervous because Dragon spent most of the night doing that. No one really talked to him and he just kept to himself. I did not say anything to him because he seemed always in deep thought in his own personal space. I hoped I did not disrupt his focus (which I do not think I did consider his still supremely sharp in-ring work that night) and I also hoped some of his good chi rubbed off on to me from being in close proximity to him at Brawlfest.

Brawlfest wrapped up shortly after that. I talked to a few people I did not get to converse with earlier in the night until the ring crew was finished and we were paid. I then left without going to the afterparty, as I returned to my parent’s house to pick up my wife and daughter who were there for my uncle’s birthday party. As much as I wanted to continue the good vibes from the night with everyone, I also wanted to be home with family again.

So that wraps up my time at Brawlfest. In my next journal recap, I will be discussing my times at ESW’s debut event in Cuba (New York, not the country) on a show that I helped name: The Collision in Cuba. This was Brawlfest.

As always, thanks for reading!