Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – 8 from Metropolis…

What do Christopher Daniels, Low Ki, Paul London, Bryan Danielson, Austin Aries, Petey Williams, Matt & Jeff Hardy, Chris Sabin, Frankie Kazarian, Brian Kendrick, Davey Richards, Alex Shelley, AJ Styles, James Gibson, Mike Quackenbush, and reigning ROH World Champion Jerry Lynn all have in common, besides being fantastic professional wrestlers? They’ve all competed in the East Coast Wrestling Association’s annual Super 8 tournament in the past twelve years.

TODAY’S ISSUE: ECWA’s Super 8 tournament.

East Coast Wrestling Association has been producing the Super 8 tournament since 1997 when, according to legend, ECWA promoter Jim Kettner landed a local television deal and wanted to crown a new TV Champion. The Super 8 was originally run as an 8-man tournament to determine the new TV Champ, and the tournament blossomed from there. Many well known grapplers have competed in the annual event over the years, including Billy Kidman, Sonjay Dutt, Rob Conway, Human Tornado, Charlie Hass, Amazing Red, Bobby Roode, Shark Boy, Devon “Crowbar” Storm, Christian York, Simon Diamond, and Scotty Too Hotty. Along with several others, these mat men have all tossed their hat into the ECWA ring seeking a Super 8 tournament victory.

Known for catapulting its participants into the upper echelon of the U.S. independent scene, the Super 8 has earned a reputation as one of the most prestigious tournaments in wrestling. With a pedigree like this, nothing could keep me, a fan of both tournaments and indy wrestling, from checking them out. I just acquired my first three Super 8 tournament DVDs (1999, 2003, and 2004), and I’m starting with the 2004 edition this week.

In an unusual twist, the DVD began with all 8 men sitting side by side at a table taking questions from the fans. This was a unique way to execute the “fan-fest” concept and the crowd really enjoyed it. J.J. Dillon even made an appearance at the Q & A, being introduced as the host of the show. The arena in Wilmington, Delaware had an incredibly indy look but big things often come in small packages, so don’t let that fool you. As the show began, all the wrestlers in the house came out from the locker room and surrounded the ring apron for a very classy tribute, via the traditional 10-bell salute, to two members of the “ECWA family” who had passed away. The first, Ed Walls, was a wheelchair-bound fan who never missed a show. The second was Marty Thompson, the chief of the ring crew. This was quite a dignified, honorable display of respect for a business that doesn’t always necessarily take the high road and do the classy thing. Between the fan-fest and this memorial for two fallen friends of the company, ECWA earned my respect before the first match had begun.

They cut away to an opening video montage highlighting the eight men in the tournament, then Dillon came out to the ring and made a few brief comments. Next, all the wrestlers in the tournament came to the ring for individual introductions, complete with medals being placed around their necks. There was a very positive vibe, as all eight men were gracious and shook hands with each other. Nobody bothered playing heel at this point, and when the National Anthem played with all eight grapplers in the ring, it really seemed much more like a legitimate sporting event getting underway than a staged sports/entertainment hybrid show about to begin. Everything so far added up to a one-of-a-kind atmosphere for pro wrestling, setting the tone for a special event. With the opening festivities out of the way, it was time to get down to the meat and potatoes. The Super 8 is a single-elimination tournament in which all the opening round winners advance to the semi-finals. All three rounds, including the finals, take place on this single night of wrestling action.

OPENING ROUND: Austin Aries vs. Shawn Daivari. Daivari, of course, has worked for WWE and is currently working in TNA as Sheik Abdul Bashir, and Austin Aries is one of Ring of Honor’s biggest guns, who also passed through TNA a couple of years ago.

This was an energetic match in which each man got to showcase a bit of grappling prowess, speed, agility, and aggressive offense. I found myself easily drawn into the contest, and would love to see these two work a program together in ROH someday. They were quite evenly matched in all the important categories, and they produced a hot opener that really got things rolling in a big way. After an outstanding back-and-forth finishing sequence, Aries drilled Daivari with his patented 450 splash for the victory. Austin Aries advanced to the semi-finals.

OPENING ROUND: ECWA Heavyweight Champion Mike “the Shooter” Kruel vs. Ricky Reyes. I don’t know Kruel, but Reyes is formerly of the Havana Pitbulls, once aligned with Rocky Romero as part of Homicide’s Rottweilers in Ring of Honor.

They spent the first few minutes in an impressive display of amateur-style mat wrestling, utilizing holds and counter holds as they jockeyed for an advantage. Kruel is big and muscular, and during his ring entrance I was thinking that from his appearance, he was going to be the “powerful but limited wrestler” in the field, but I should have known better, considering the Super 8 is heralded as a real wrestling tourney. He is quite competent on the mat, weaving his superior strength in with his wrestling ability. Once striking came into play, Kruel secured a clear advantage and started working over his opponent and kept the pressure on. Reyes put up a great effort, fighting back and coming close to escaping with a win via an ankle lock with a heel hook, but he was outclassed in this contest.

As solidly built as Kruel is, it was his wrestling knowledge and not his power that earned him the victory when he reversed a suplex attempt into a front chancery and chained that into a guillotine choke for the submission. With his impressive combination of power and skill, Kruel was sure to be difficult for his next opponent to handle. Mike Kruel advanced to the semi-finals.

Next up, the previous year’s winner Paul London introduced a great montage of highlights from the previous seven editions of the Super 8 that was jam-packed with highlights of outstanding wrestlers performing amazing maneuvers. The video package closed with a graphic memorializing Jeff Peterson, a wrestler who’d died of lymphoma two years earlier at the age of 21; ECWA is all about class. Now it was back to the action.

OPENING ROUND: The Fallen Angel Christopher Daniels vs. Azucar Rocky Romero. Daniels is a founding father of ROH, and a legend of TNA’s X Division. Romero is the other half of the Havana Pitbulls, and was once a member of Roderick Strong’s now defunct No Remorse Corps in ROH along with American Wolf Davey Richards. Daniels’ charisma was palpable here, and the crowd treated him like the huge star that he is. He was also the only former Super 8 champion in this year’s tournament.

After absorbing two stiff kicks to the leg by Romero and blocking a third attempt, the Fallen Angel gave the crowd a laugh when he mocked Rocky by standing in the Karate Kid’s “crane technique”. When the fun and games were over they got down to business and put on a wrestling clinic highlighted by stiff striking and aggressive mat work. Daniels held Romero up in a very long delayed vertical suplex and the crowd ate it up. Romero, known for extremely powerful striking, brought the thunder on this night. His knee strikes and kicks pummeled the Fallen Angel, but Rocky’s decision to showboat while he had the advantage may have cost him as he failed to crank up the heat when he had Daniels compromised. Instead, Daniels was able to work his way out of trouble and it became a back-and-forth affair as each man scored with devastating offense while struggling to find a way to win.

Nailing a wicked enziguiri and an STO was enough to convince Daniels it was time to go for his trusted Angel’s Wings finisher, but Romero countered with his vicious Diablo Armbar, and Daniels countered the counter into a pin cover for the victory. This was a great match that never let up and maintained the intensity throughout. Christopher Daniels advanced to the semi-finals.

OPENING ROUND: Hurricane John Walters vs. Nicho. Walters is a former ROH Pure Wrestling Champion who feuded against Generation Next (Aries, Shelley, Strong and Evans). Nicho, formerly known as Psicosis, was a WCW Cruiserweight Champion, a member of the “Mexicools” in WWE, and also worked for TNA briefly.

Nicho works a Lucha Libre style, and Walters is a more traditional, catch-as-catch-can wrestler. In the opening moments, this clash of styles made for an awkward flow, as everything they tried to do seemed half a step off. Nicho did try to crank things up by throwing an impressive plancha to the outside on Walters after ripping off his own mask (it was apparently bothering him) and he followed up with a nice corkscrew leg strike off the top, which earned a two-count. Walters countered a rana attempt into an incredible variation of an STF that saw Nicho’s back bridged in gruesome fashion. After an impressive modified front powerbomb, Walters utilized an Okana roll for the victory via pinfall. They never really clicked, but they were trying to make something happen. “A” for effort. John Walters advanced to the semi-finals.

SEMI-FINAL ROUND: The Fallen Angel Christopher Daniels vs. ECWA Heavyweight Champion Mike “the Shooter” Kruel. There was a lot of kayfabe heat between these two since Kruel had defeated none other than Daniels about five months earlier for the ECWA title, and they were eager to face each other once again.

They went at it with fire in this hotly contested battle, and Kruel worked Daniels’ arm, which was a wise strategy considering the damage Rocky Romero did to the same arm in the opening round. But Daniels had too many tricks up his sleeve for Kruel this time, delivering a vicious piledriver, and shortly thereafter scoring the victory by submission when he forced the bigger man to tap out in the Koji Clutch. There was lots of intensity in this one, and that made it fun to watch. Christopher Daniels advanced to the Super 8 finals.

The match was non-title but in true babyface spirit, Kruel placed his ECWA belt on Daniels’ shoulder, explaining on the house mic that as a fighting champion, he can’t ever sell himself short and since the better man won this night, Daniels deserved not only to advance in the tournament but also to once again be crowned ECWA champion. Man, this company really does business in a classy, respectful way; you gotta love that.

SEMI-FINAL ROUND: Austin Aries vs. John Walters. This match started as a battle of wits, as strategy came into play early. With their agility, speed, grappling aptitude and will to win, Aries and Walters set a demanding pace and went hold for hold, counter for counter. Aries is an amazing performer, and Walters hung with him every step of the way. While standing on the ring apron, Walters delivered a cutter to Aries, who’d been perched upon the top rope, driving his face into the edge of the ring frame. Ouch. Later, Aries recovered and drilled Walters with his brain-buster and tried to follow up with a 450, but got ravaged by a massive lariat, and both men were down on the mat. After one last flurry of intense offense, Aries successfully delivered the 450 splash for the 1, 2, 3. This was the kind of match that will really appeal to fans of solid ring work. Austin Aries advanced to the Super 8 finals.

Well this is ironic. Last week I wrote about Ring of Honor’s 2006 Survival of the Fittest tournament where Daniels and Aries squared off in the first one-on-one match I’d ever seen them in, and now here they are in the finals of another tourney.

Before the tournament final there were two tag team matches on the card, a “Tag Team Summit Battle Royal” (Royal Rumble style) with the winners receiving an ECWA Tag Team Championship shot immediately afterwards. There was nothing of note here, so unless you have a burning desire to see ECW commentator Matt Striker working the indies, I suggest you skip ahead to the finals of the Super 8 tourney.

SUPER 8 CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH: Austin Aries vs. the Fallen Angel Christopher Daniels. Aries got off to a phenomenal start, roaring out of his corner at the opening bell to stun Daniels with a huge rolling elbow strike, and it was on. These two lions waged war over the coveted prize, with Daniels seeking to repeat his tournament victory from 2000 as Aries looked to add this accolade to his growing portfolio of pro wrestling accomplishments.

After several minutes of punishing offense by both men, Daniels hit a ura-nage and enziguiri to gain the advantage. Aries got back into it thanks to his devastating brain-buster, and they were back to square one. The fatigue of their two previous matches was beginning to show as they went for frequent covers, clearly trying to wrap things up as quickly as possible. Aries came within an eyelash of victory with his crucifix bomb, but the Fallen Angel managed to kick out before the referee reached the count of 3. Aries went for the kill with his 450 splash, and when Daniels managed to kick out it shocked the future ROH world champion, and Aries got desperate. His game plan came apart, and rather than keeping the pressure on he got in the ref’s face for too long and then simply started choking the Fallen Angel. But the more seasoned Daniels kept his cool and stunned the flustered Aries with the Last Rites, then finished with three consecutive BMEs for the resounding victory. Christopher Daniels won the 2004 Super 8 Championship.

The “King of the Indies” was impressive all night long, winning three matches and walking away as the only two-time Super 8 Champion in tournament history and with the ECWA heavyweight title in tow. Aries did almost enough to get the job done but came up just a bit short, yet still looked like a superstar of professional wrestling even in defeat. This is the kind of action you only get to see on the independent scene, and it’s why indy fans rave about how special the smaller feds can be.

Since the entire event was such a classy affair, they had no other way to end the night. J.J. Dillon presented Daniels with his trophy, and all the other tournament competitors hoisted him onto their shoulders for his moment in the spotlight, holding the tournament trophy aloft with the ECWA championship belt around his waist. When they placed him down, Daniels and Aries shared a gesture of respect – a hug and a handshake. It is such a pleasant surprise to witness this level of sportsmanship, honor, and professionalism in pro wrestling, and it makes me proud to be a fan.

SUMMARY: There were no commentators calling the action on the DVD, making it more like being there live. The camera work left something to be desired at times, so this is nothing like watching a slick, studio produced event, but the wrestling all spoke for itself anyway without needing help from instant replays, pyro, picture-in-picture, or on-screen graphics. All the packaging in the world doesn’t make a bad match entertaining, and when two guys are in the ring tearing it up, all you need is a camera recording their struggle and a screen to watch it on.

All the Super 8 DVDs are available for purchase at RFvideo.com for $15 each plus shipping and handling, minus the 12th annual (2008 edition), but you can find that one at ECWA’s admittedly humble online store for the same price.

When phenomenal wrestlers work outside the big companies like WWE and TNA, they’re essentially allowed off the chain and left to their own devices to entertain wrestling fans the best way they know how – by producing exciting matches featuring innovative, high-risk moves, jaw-dropping strikes, and vicious submission holds. This isn’t the glitz and sizzle of the big feds; it’s all about the action in the ring and it’s well worth the price.

If you like real wrestling and don’t find giants, midgets, guys in drag, or mythical beasts as entertaining as some fans do, give yourself a treat some time and check out the indies. If you know where to look, you can find gems like this Super 8 tournament, or Ring of Honor, CHIKARA, PWG, FIP, GEAR, and many other promotions offering this sort of action. If you don’t know where to look, ask an indy fan – we know where the goods are.

p.s. – “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” – Mark Twain

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
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Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…

Just when you though you’d read enough about 8-man indy tournaments today, here comes Norine “the Machine” Stice with a DVD review of New England Championship Wrestling’s 2007 Iron 8 Tournament.

John Wiswell analyzes Ring of Honor’s decision to put their top belt on Jerry Lynn in this week’s Cult of ROH.

Ivan Rushfield discusses CHIKARA’s 2008 King of Trios tournament in his latest edition of Breaking Holds.

Phil Clark looks at what went down on WrestleMania Sunday in The Reality of Wrestling.

David Brashear continues his very interesting look at Memphis wrestling history with One Year in Memphis.

Real-time coverage, you say? Norine Stice covers RAW, while Kevin Innarelli handles ECW.

Finally this week, Scott Keith lists his picks for best and worst WrestleMania matches of all time.

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