Hello, everyone! My latest adventure in pro wrestling takes me all the way to Cuba. No, not the island nation, but a small town nestled in a remote part of Western New York. This is Collision in Cuba.
For this Empire State Wrestling event, I played a small role in its planning. My friend Kip Doyle is an avid pro wrestling fan and also puts on an annual benefit show in Cuba – his hometown – in memory of his good friend that died from cancer a few years ago. In previous installments of “Deschfest”, Kip booked bands to perform and hold raffles to raise funds for local cancer patients.
But for this year’s event, Kip wanted to include pro wrestling a part of the festivities. Since he and his friend would attend wrestling shows together growing up, he felt it would be fitting to include if and wanted to bring the best independent pro wrestling promotion in the area to his hometown. Thus he approached ESW to be a part of it, collision in Cuba.
Kip messaged me with some ideas for the event and about what needs to go into planning a professional wrestling show in New York. Eventually, we reached the point where he was thinking of a name for the wrestling portion. I played off the old WCW/New Japan show name that took place in North Korea in the early 1990s and suggested “Collision in Cuba”. The alliteration worked and it has a nice ring to it, so it stuck and became part of the show’s name.
I never traveled to this specific town in Western New York before. The last time I remember being in Allegany County was in college driving to a friend’s concert at Alfred University, so it was about 15 years since I last been in this neck of the woods.
Thus the drive down for me and Referee Andrew Mollon (who worked as the timekeeper that night) was interesting as we went through towns and down roads we were not accustomed to. On the way, we stopped at a small diner in Arcade, N.Y. and hung out with Vice President of Production Jonathan Ashe, ring announcer Chris Gullo and James Sayga before heading back on the trail.
This was an outdoor event that thankfully utilized a large tent. The show would have been rained out if it were not for the covering. Considering the conditions and lack of availability of the normal ESW staff, we just needed to set up the ring, chairs and a few other things. We did not need to set up a lot of recording equipment to stream the show or use the more elaborate entranceway. Therefore, we were able to get everything squared away quicker than normal.
There was also a chicken coop next to the ring truck – a first for me to be at a show accompanied by domesticated fowl. I sent a picture of them to my wife and she asked if I could bring some home.
As this was more of a “house show” per se, it featured a few wrestlers that normally do not work regular ESW shows or were more featured then usual. There were also only 7 matches – no pre-show. Overall, I think this was a very good crew for this type of show. Everyone on it knew how to work this type of smalltown fair crowd – which includes more of an emphasis on interacting with the fans and less about high spots.
My first match was ESW Tag Team Champions Sayga and Vince Valor versus High Seas – the team of Cloudy and Nick Ando. The match went a little shorter than planned, but that was all right as the audience ate everything up that happened in it.
My next one was Kevin Bennett against Gavin Glass. This was my first Glass match since he turned heel about a month ago, so that was a different experience for me. Both of these guys hit more high spots in the match than the previous ones but managed to incorporate them in a way that the crowd was able to stay connected with the match. Timewise, it was right on.
After that, I reffed Steve Gage versus “Downtown” Kenny Brown. I was happy to ref this one as Gage is a traveling buddy of mine and I never reffed Brown on a live show before. That match got over pretty well with the crowd and finished slightly under its allocated time but that was fine. It is better to go a little under than over as it guarantees it will not eat into the time of the remaining matches on the card.
During the next match, I needed to play the role of a security guard as a few little kids were getting a little too excited and hitting the ring apron. I politely told them they needed to sit back down at Collision in Cuba.
My last match was the main event. It featured ESW Interstate Champion Frankie Feathers and World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer Bushwacker Luke against Anthony Gaines and Roscoe Black. This match turned out to be a memorable one.
Going into the bout, it was approaching 6:30 pm. The band playing after the wrestling was supposed to go on at 7 p.m. so timewise we were doing all right. The allocated time for the match was 10-12 minutes. Part of the referee’s job is to let the wrestlers know how they are doing on time during their match. I considered the fact we were doing good on time, nothing was being recorded for streaming, it was the final match of the night and that a WWE Hall of Famer was going to be in it that staying up on the time would not be a priority.
Right before the match, we were waiting for the names for the raffle to be selected. As we waited, I ran over to the raffle tent and got the winners names for Gullo to read off with as minimal delay as possible. I then ran the list back over to the raffle tent and got back in the ring before Black and Gaines came out at Collision in Cuba.
The match ended up going nearly a half-hour long. Afterward, I remembered a few years ago when Luke wrestled for a different promotion hearing that his match went that long, too. I probably should have remembered that. However, even though it went on for so long, the fans were hot for it. Gaines was selling like crazy – he made Luke like he was butchering him. Black also nearly crushed Luke as well with a senton (by the way Luke, at age 72, still bumps in the ring).
After the match, when I found out how much overtime it went, I approached Kip and apologized for letting the fight go on as long as it did. Thankfully, he was fine with it seeing how much the crowd liked it.
Luke also approached me afterward and gave me some advice. A lot of times when the face partner is distracting me in the corner, I will try to guide them back in the corner or push them out of the ring. However, Luke said that I was too physical and that if a non-wrestler were to touch a wrestler like that, they could get hit and if a heel were to touch me in the ring, I should disqualify them immediately.
This differs a lot from what is being done currently in independent wrestling. I find it quite common for some physicality (nothing over the top) to occur sometimes in a match with a referee, such as pulling guys off each other or holding a face tag partner back from interfering. Even with heels, referees sometimes get shoved then turn it into the Ric Flair spot where the heel bumps after the ref shoves them back.
I am not saying that Bushwacker Luke is wrong. Based off how wrestling was in the territories he worked in the past and in the WWF in the 1990s, he is absolutely right. However, I think it is important to keep in mind how you react relative to your surroundings and who you are in the ring with. Mollon explained to me that Greg Valentine told him similar things after he reffed one of his matches. So what knowledge I got out of this is that the next time I ref an older legend such as Luke, I will be less physical and avoid touching as much as possible. Instead, I will rely more on things such as a 5 count to enforce the rules.
After that, all that was left was packing up the circus and heading back to Buffalo. Overall the show went very well and Kip was super happy and he felt those in attendance were with the product as well. With such a strong performance, he anticipates that ESW will be back in Cuba next year, too. Many of us then took the 1.25-hour drive to Mooney’s in West Seneca and enjoyed a good post-show meal before heading home.
That sums up my latest journey through my referee life. My next recap will be about ESW’s next show Temperature Rising in North Tonawanda, N.Y. on June 29. This was a collision in Cuba.
As always you can read all my Jarkaster Journey entries by clicking right here.
Thanks for reading!