The Jarkaster Journey: WrestleBash Review

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Photo/TMK Photography

Hello everybody! Thanks for taking some time to read up on my comings and goings on my tales as a referee on the independent wrestling scene. This blog entry will be dedicated to my time at Empire State Wrestling’s latest show “WrestleBash” as well as the before and after happenings surrounding the event.

WrestleBash is ESW’s biggest event of the year. Instead of running at the usual stomping grounds at the St. Johnsburg Fire Hall in North Tonawanda, N.Y., the show is held at the Frontier Fire Hall in Niagara Falls, N.Y. which is just 10 minutes away from St. Johnsburg. Although it is a slightly longer drive for most people, it fits an additional 150-200 people and thus bigger stars are normally booked for this show.

At prior Frontier events, more well-known names such as Demolition, Tommy Dreamer, Bob Holly, and Santino Marella were booked. This year, the original plan was to bring in Hollywood movie star David Arquette but due to scheduling conflicts, he needed to pull out. I was bummed to hear this news since I knew several people that wanted to come to see him but was pleased to find out his replacement was Papa Shango and The Godfather (yes, I know they are the same person).

Luckily, I do not put out the press releases until about 30 days out from the event, and Arquette pulled out about a week and a half before I would start working on them. So that saved me on needing to send out revisions to the media outlets I contact.

I also wrote a WrestleBash preview for Pro Wrestling Post that you can check out here (includes wrestler quotes exclusive to PWP!): https://prowrestlingpost.com/the-jarkaster-journey-preview-wrestlebash/

The night before WrestleBash, we decided to record an episode of “Inside the Empire” at the venue during ring crew with The Caesar. My drive up was a bit stressful. I was not totally sure I would be able to attend the recording due to some family obligations. I missed the last episode with Superbeast and I did not want to make it two in a row.

After I was good to head out to Frontier, my gas light turned on but I trusted by reliable Toyota Corolla to conserve the remaining fuel and I pushed onward as I was already running late. After getting off the highway, I stopped at the first gas station I could reach. There was no cash in my wallet so I went to pull out my debit card, except it was not in its normal spot (thankfully, my local Tim Horton’s was holding on to it from that morning). I looked in my car quickly. Nothing. I knew I still did not have much time so I just swiped my credit card instead. It declined. It then hit me that I forgot to pay that bill this month (whoops). Now I was panicking a little, so I did my best to take it a little slower and coast more and conserved what gas remained to reach the venue.

Before I left, I messaged our group chat to feel free to start without me. They did not get too far in when I arrived. I am really glad I made it as this was one of the funniest episodes we ever put out. The Caesar is a longtime mainstay of the Western New York independent wrestling scene and knows a plethora of cool stories. If you want a good chuckle, I encourage you to listen to this episode.

You can listen to The Caesar episode of “Inside the Empire” here: https://eswwrestling.podbean.com/e/the-caesar/

After recording and helping a bit with ring crew, I got a few dollars from Chris Gullo to get enough gas to get me home (he owed me a few bucks from some merchandise I sold him a few months ago).

The next day’s drive up was not much easier. I made arrangements with Kevin Bennett to interview him for a feature profile article prior to the show. However, life at home required me to leave later than expected, so once again I tried my best to rush to the venue. I made the mistake of trying to use Google GPS directions to get their as fast as possible, but I was too thick and missed the entrance ramp to the highway twice and added on an unnecessary amount of time to my commute.

As I left the highway, I realized I forgot the money from the tickets I sold. It was too late to turn around at this point so I needed to veer off course to the closest ATM and withdraw the cash, which once again threw me off my commute.

At this point, these inconveniences plus the issues I dealt with the night before were getting to me a bit and I was getting pretty stressed out. To put it bluntly, it really sucks going into the biggest show of the year with the wrong state of mind over a bunch of little things.

As I pulled up to the road the fire hall is on, I saw a large bird fly across the road. It was a bald eagle. I am not a very patriotic person, but I am one that appreciates nature and seeing such a rare bird in this part of the country provided somewhat of a relief to me before I pulled up to Frontier. I took it as a good omen for the night and now felt good about going into tonight’s show again.

After arriving, I think I accidentally made a surprise appearance on The Closed Fist podcast that tapes before our shows. We will see when the episodes get released on YouTube. I got to work fairly quickly on filming Facebook live interviews Gullo did with Kevin Blackwood, Brandon Thurston and Daniel Garcia about being in the Ilio DiPaolo Cup match. That took up a fair amount of time and led me to not being able to interview Bennett.

The show itself not only lived up to expectations, but it also blew them out of the water. Sometimes, I feel like I come off a talking with a whole bunch of hyperbole in how I describe how good the ESW product is becoming. But I swear, that I truly believe that each event in 2018 was increasingly better as the year went on for ESW, and WrestleBash capped off the year appropriately. I honestly believe that WrestleBash was the best independent wrestling show I ever saw. If you do not believe me, it is now up on Powerslam.TV for your viewing pleasure.

The hall was packed. We put out a social media blast prior to the show saying if WrestleBash sold out, the next one in 2019 would be held at the Kenan Center in Lockport, N.Y. The Kenan Center is a venue that is specifically special to me for various reasons but more importantly was the site of some of ESW’s biggest drawing shows, cresting close to 1,000 in attendance. I never saw some many people in Frontier before, so I feel pretty confident that ESW will be back in Lockport around this time next year!

The first match I reffed was Gavin Glass against Dakota Orion. Both of these guys are young up-and-comers that everyone should keep an eye on. This was one of my first times reffing Orion but I reffed Glass a few times before, including his first ever match at Pier 6 Wrestling in 2014 when he was just 18-years-old. It was an exciting back-and-forth match that was pretty hot with the crowd. I was really impressed and thought “if this pre-show match was this good, the rest of the card is going to be awesome.” Spoiler alert: I was right!

Photo/TMK Photography

I next reffed on the 10-person Last Chance Battle Royal. The winner received the final spot in the Ilio DiPaolo Cup match later that night. Nine of the participants were ESW regulars, with the 10th spot going to Kenny Dykstra of the Spirit Squad. He and Mikey Mondo were originally supposed to face ESW Tag Team Champions Vince Valor and James Sayga but Mondo canceled his appearance.

The final two combatants were Dykstra and Bennett. It looked like Bennett was going to win it all when his nemesis Pepper Parks ran out and pushed him over the top rope causing him to be eliminated. I was shocked as Bennett hit the floor and almost forgot to signal his elimination. That was a shoot reaction, too. Unless someone wants to go over a specific spot with me that I need direct knowledge about, I go into battle royals/rumbles usually not knowing who is going to win it.

There were some changes in the order of the matches, so three of us ended up reffing back-to-back matches all in a row. I reffed the first two matches after intermission with the second half of the show starting with Valor and Sayga defending their titles versus a team that was new to ESW, The Private Party. The Private Party was also new to me. Being from New York City, I normally do not work with guys from the Big Apple on a regular basis in this part of Upstate New York.

Although there were a few rough spots, they were overshadowed by the fact both teams got super over with the crowd as the Private Party exhibited great athleticism in many aerial maneuvers and Valor and Sayga looking really strong with their power moves. After the finish, the audience graced The Private Party with a “please come back” chant. So who knows? Maybe we will see them again in an ESW ring.

My last match was Frankie Feathers versus Colin Delaney for the vacated Interstate title. This was supposed to be Feathers versus Anthony Gaines for the belt, but unfortunately, Gaines injured his knee and was forced to forfeit the title, thus creating this match. Gaines can now be heard on the ESW commentary team when you watch show footage, I thought he did a good job from what I heard. His knee injury is pretty serious, and there is some uncertainty about whether he can ever wrestle again. But I feel believe in him and am optimistic that he will be back someday.

I reffed Feather and Delaney several times before over the years. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time they ever locked up against each other and those types of matches are ones I am always interested to see how they go. This match turned out really well, and it was an honor to give Feathers the belt at the end, seeing how we shared a pretty similar wrestling road together over the years.

Photo/TMK Photography

Although that was my last match of the night, I must also mention the main event. For the first time in ESW history, the Ilio DiPaolo Cup match closed out WrestleBash. For those that do not know about it, the winner of the match can cash in the cup for a shot at the ESW Heavyweight title at any time of their choosing. This year’s match featured Dykstra, Garcia, Thurston, Blackwood, plus Sean Carr and Ring of Honor’s Rhett Titus.

The whole match was off the hook. The final three were Garcia, Thurston, and Blackwood. New ESW commissioner The Caesar ran out and hit Blackwood with a chair which allowed Garcia to apply his cranking sharpshooter and eliminate Blackwood by submission (can we call it the crankshooter?). So it came down to Garcia and Thurston in the battle of teacher versus student. This was Garcia’s first ever DiPaolo Cup match, while Thurston was in all five of them still trying to gain his first victory.

Not being in the match, I did not know who would win, nor did I care. I enjoyed it so much watching it in the back as they went back and forth. They tore the house down. I just let myself get lost in the moment and marked about quite a bit. That does not happen to me fairly often anymore on shows. I usually watch and critique things as they happen. I do appreciate and enjoy them but rarely do I get so emotionally invested in them as I did with this one.

In the end, Thurston applied his armbar finisher and made Garcia tap. The whole hall erupted and so did all of us in the back. Thurston cut an emotional promo afterward about how much it meant for him to finally secure a DiPaolo Cup victory. In the meantime, we all lined up in the back and then gave Garcia and Thurston huge ovations for their work in the ring as they walked back. It was well-deserved. You could see some tears in their eyes, and I told Thurston it was only the second time I came close to crying at a wrestling show thanks to his match.

After the show ended and we cleaned up, we presented ESW owner Brett Mednik with a special plaque to honor him for being a wrestling promoter for 10 years. I am glad he was distinguished with the honor especially after tonight. With all the changes happening leading up to the show and worrying about how the fans would take to it, I imagine he was under a ton of stress. Thus, I am glad we were able to honor Mednik with all his hard work with the plaque and also by delivering on all cylinders for him on the show.

We headed down to Mooney’s on Main for the after-party. I was able to meet up with Bennett and I conducted the interview with him. One of the neat things about doing these profile pieces is getting to know your subject even more than you already do. I was able to learn more about Bennett outside of wrestling and he is quite an interesting person.

You can read my article on Kevin Bennett here: https://wp.me/p9KCib-IH

After wrapping up the interview and devouring my chicken wings, I said some goodbyes and went on my way home. I usually stay out fairly late, but for some reason, I decided to be one of the first to leave. I just wanted to come home to my wife who stuck it out at home all day.

As I drove home, I started thinking about how the night was just awesome. I then wondered when I would be doing this whole reffing thing again. There are two tentative dates on my calendar right now for December, but both are super up-in-the-air. Nothing is confirmed. In January, it looks like I will need to take the month off from reffing due to a medical issue that I will likely discuss in a future post and February is completely free as of now. That would mean my next confirmed show will not be until the end of March.

Thinking about that started to make me sad. It would be literally four more months until I wear the stripes again. Since I started reffing 11 years ago, the longest layoff I ever endured was two months, so as it stands, I would be doubling that.

But then I thought a few things. First, if it will be four months until I ref again, at least I started the layoff on a high note with an excellent show. Second, ever the optimist, there is still hope one or maybe both those bookings come through in December. Third, there is enough time between now and then that I can pick up a booking or two in February. I do not know where, maybe something close to here comes up, maybe somewhere out of state even. But I got time to add something. Fourth, I might not be in the ring at this time but I can still be pretty well connected to wrestling via producing “Inside the Empire” episodes and of course, writing here on Pro Wrestling Post! Lastly, if I get the itch badly enough, I can always go down to Grapplers Anonymous wrestling school in Lackawanna, N.Y. to get some additional ring time.

After all that, I ended up at GA the Monday after WrestleBash as WWE’s Luke Harper was in town to help with training and talk to everyone. It was a cool time for the most part being able to ref practice matches for people I am super familiar with and guys I met for the first time while they were able to get some expert advice from Harper. After the training matches, there was a Q&A session mostly around what WWE is looking for in wrestlers, advise on how to make it there, etc. The only downer was deciding not to wear my knee pads and getting two giant brush burns on my left knee from sliding. Whoops!

Photo/Pepper Parks

Well, that sums up my WrestleBash week. As I said earlier, I am not too certain what the immediate future holds for me reffing wise, but that I can still be connected with wrestling even if things do not pan out. If you wish to book me on your wrestling show, contact me on Facebook or Twitter @Jarkaster or email me directly at davidjarka@gmail.com. I will keep hoping for the best and aspire to tell you more tales from my journey as I progress on. As always, thanks for reading!

To see more of DJ and the talent from Empire State Wrestling visit Powerslam.TV by clicking the icon image below.

Photos / Powerslam.TV