Wrestlebash 2021 | Jarkaster Journey

Wrestlebash 2021

Hello, everybody! Welcome to another entry into my journey as a referee on the independent wrestling scene. This blog is about my time at Empire State Wrestling’s last show of 2021: Wrestlebash. This was an all-around great day so let’s jump right into it.

Over the years, Wrestlebash evolved into one of ESW’s “super shows” and typically is held at larger venues than its old “home” venue, St. Johnsburg Fire Hall. This year’s Wrestlebash was hosted at the Frontier Fire Hall in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The last time ESW was at Frontier was for Wrestlebash in 2018. After a 3-year drought, it was nice to return to a familiar venue and in area of Western New York considered to be ESW’s stomping grounds.

Frontier Fire Hall is in one of the fuzzy areas of Western New York that its zip code location differs from the actual town it is located in. Predominately, its referred to being in Niagara Falls since that’s the zip code it lies within and is the easiest way to locate the hall via GPS. However, the hall is within the borders of the Town of Wheatfield.

This is similar to the nearby St. Johnsburg which has a North Tonawanda zip code but also falls within Wheatfield’s boundaries. To add to the fuzziness, there are also two Frontier Fire Halls on separate streets, one of River Road and the other on Liberty Drive (the latter is where Wrestlebash was held with reminders posted on event day as a heads up).

Niagara Falls, the actual globally known water falls, is about a 10 minute drive away from the fire hall. Growing up in proximity to it, I often take for granted living near to such a worldly-renowned tourist destination. As implied before, Wheatfield is wedged between the cities of Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda.

Wheatfield is a quiet, rural community with not a lot of notable significance to it – a stark contrast to its neighboring community that is home to one of the world’s most famous natural wonders. Wheatfield’s most notable residents are the notorious John Wayne Bobbitt, NHL player Adam Clendening and Union Civil War Colonel Lewis S. Payne.

This was a solo drive for me. It is not as quick as driving to Buffalo RiverWorks but still an easy drive taking mostly some local highways to the hall. Shows in these areas I always considered piece-of-cake drives for me, especially considering I previously travelled three hours to be on other ones. However, living in Western New York, it seems like everyone else thinks this is a long commute because lots of Western New Yorkers consider anything over 20 minutes a long drive.

I worked three matches and was needed in two other spots on the show. My first assignment was High Seas versus The Philly Marino Experience. I worked with High Seas previously and feel well accustomed to their matches. This was my first time refereeing PME though.

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Cloud & Philly Collins battle as DJ Jarka checks in on the two competitors. [Photo: TMK Ringside Photography]
PME is best known for wrestling for Absolute Intense Wrestling in Cleveland, Ohio (which made me a little extra excited to ref this considering I got my start in Ohio). This was a fun match to kick off the show and Philly Collins even got me to wiggle my knees to start it off. I am glad I got to ref PME – both of these guys were super cool to work with.

After this match, I rescued a poor referee that debuted in the Interstate Championship match between Frankie Feathers and Jeremiah Richter.  Referee Thomas Kennedy got beat up (along with a few security guards) post-match by Richter, who was unhappy that he did not win the title to say the least. I helped him to the back while the rest of the referee crew helped the security guards.

Wrestlebash 2021

One of my friends at intermission asked me why I did not get involved in trying to hold off Richter. My years of experience smartened me up on knowing when I may be in danger of getting my butt kicked. I was not risking that here.

My second match was between To Infinity & Beyond versus Money Shot. This was very similar to my earlier match in that it involved a tag team I worked several times before in TI&B and a team I refereed with for the first time in the Pittsburgh, Penn-based Money Shot. This match really tested my agility and my positioning. The action was fast-paced and I was on my toes throughout it to avoid getting in anyone’s way and to not block any cameras that were recording the action.

Anyone that ever saw “Big Time” Bill Collier wrestle at ESW, or any promotion for that matter, often wonders why he is not wrestling on national television. I think the same can be said for To Infinity & Beyond, too. They can hang in the ring with any team in the world right now. Hell, maybe they should form a faction and call themselves “Made for TV” or something like that.

As I hinted before, at intermission I hung out with some of my friends who regularly make it to shows that I am on. My one buddy comes up from Virginia and my other friend from high school was in town for Thanksgiving from New Jersey. This is a big advantage to running on Thanksgiving Weekend. Although it is difficult to book wrestling legends due to running at the same time as Wrestlecade, I think a lot of people that came to Wrestlebash were in town for the holiday and that helps give the attendance a boost.

My last assignment was for the Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Cup match. I am glad this tradition that started in 2013 made its return. This was the third time I refereed a DiPaolo Cup match including the last time it was held two years ago. The match is a six person elimination scramble with each entrant coming into the match on an interval. The winner receives the prestigious Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Cup Trophy. With it, the winner can challenge for the ESW Heavyweight Championship within the next year at any time of their choosing.

Wrestlebash 2021
Elijah Dean & Cheech battle while DJ Jarka checks in on the two competitors. [Photo: TMK Ringside Photography]
The 2021 DiPaolo Cup match was loaded with the most talent in the match’s history. Two Impact Wrestling stars, ex-Impact Heavyweight Champion Josh Alexander and “The Drama King” Matt Rehwoldt (formerly known as Aiden English), the debuting Matthew Justice (substituting for KTB), the return of Façade, a former DiPaolo Cup winner in Collier and Niagara Falls native “Invincible” Vince Valor were the match participants.

This match tested my endurance as it went about 20 minutes. I also needed to remember more than usual with five different elimination within the bout. With everything involved, the match went extremely smooth – even when Timekeeper Lou Medina needed help removing a chair from the ring brought in by Justice for a plancha and got a pop resulting in Alexander shaking his head in puzzlement. The match was very emotional at the end between Collier and Valor as the pair grew close to each other over the years. It was honor to be right up close for it.

The main event was the highly anticipated ESW Heavyweight Championship match between the reigning champ “Red Death” Daniel Garcia and Kevin Blackwood. This fight between two best friends was a classic. It reminded me of a Ring of Honor match during its heyday.

I already changed my outfit when I ran out and give spare batteries to the cameramen which was a positive because someone sneaking around ringside in a black Dickie’s shirt is less of a distraction that someone clad in referee zebra stripes. Anyways, I highly recommend watching this match now that is up on IndependentWrestling.TV (IWTV) along with the DiPaolo Cup match and everything else that was on the card. You will not be disappointed.

I was surprised that Blackwood won the title considering he moved out to the West Coast a few months ago. But with Garcia becoming more invested in All-Elite Wrestling, it makes sense for him to drop the belt. The aftermath set up what will be a hell of a match between Blackwood and Kevin Bennett at the next ESW show whenever that will occur. (date and venue to be announced at a later date).

Blackwood also came out to super cool entrance music he produced himself. He just put it on Spotify under the artist name BLKWD. Bennett also has his own rap songs on that platform. I recommend checking out all their beats.

At Frontier, there is a bar area that is in between where our locker room is and the hall itself. In between matches, I got caught up watching the Alabama-Auburn college football rivalry game (known as the Iron Bowl) with several of the locals. Although I am not able to engulf myself into it like I used to, I am a huge college football nerd.

It was fun catching a real exciting game with a bunch of these folks while also being a part of the industry I love. They also ribbed me that I counted too slow in my matches, but I pointed out I was accused of counting too fast during the DiPaolo Cup.

I cannot say this for every show I work, but literally everyone from the main eventers on the roster to the humble ring crew staff possessed great attitudes at Wrestlebash. Everyone was cool and nice with positive vibes that echoed throughout the building. I think that bled over into how good the in-ring product and the audience responded well to it.

I believe that great wrestling comes from great people that have great attitudes and Wrestlebash proved that to be true. After we wrapped up ring crew, even the venue manager approached us to thanks everyone for such a fun show, being helpful with cleaning up and welcomed us back to Frontier whenever we can.

The afterparty made its return to Mooney’s on Main in Tonawanda, N.Y. as it is an easy drive from the fire hall. Although a lot of our crew has turned over across the last several years, I am glad to hangout with people who stuck around ESW over the years and also get to know those that are relative newcomers to our promotion. The older I get, the more faces I see come-and-go through indie wrestling. I also increasingly appreciate, and miss, the relationships and bonds I forged with many people over the years.

I am not 100% sure what my next booking will be but I do have some things lined up over the next few months. Stay tuned. Things can always pop up in this wild wrestling world at a moment’s notice.

As always, thanks for reading!