Before there was AEW there was PWG. For many years, PWG was the home of the wackiest, wildest, indiest of indy wrestling in the world aside from maybe CHIKARA.
It has one of the loudest and most enthusiastic fanbases in all of wrestling and has been host to many iconic matches. And today we review one of the small handful of PWG matches that was praised to the moon by wrestling’s most (in)famous journalist to see if that praise was deserving.
Today we look back at the match between Keith Lee and Donovan Dijak from PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles (BOLA) in 2017.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
BOLA is PWG’s annual King of the Ring-style single-elimination tournament. However, since 2014, it has been structured a bit differently. Instead of two blocks of eight, BOLA has three blocks of eight. One wrestler advances from each block to reach the finals and then a winner is crowned in a three-way elimination match.
The 2017 edition had an impressive roster, including several wrestlers famous for their work in AEW, ROH, WWE, and New Japan. it included wrestlers like Marty Scurll, Ricochet, Sammy Guevara, Sami Callihan, Penta El Zero Miedo, Matt Riddle, Michael Elgin, WALTER, Rey Fénix, and the two men we’re looking at today, Keith Lee and Donovan Dijak. Lee beat WALTER to advance to the quarter-finals while Dijak beat Trevor Lee. Both these guys were monster powerhouses that were hard to take off their feet. And yet, even though Dijak had already shown impressive strength, Lee was by far the favorite going into the match.
This match originally took place on September 3rd, 2017.
After a stare-down they lock-up and Dijak gets a semi-clean break in a corner. Dijak stares daggers at Lee but Lee simply shoves him and Dijak takes a light fall backwards. Lee lands a shoulderblock but Dijak kips up instantly. They have a little crisscross and Dijak blocks a hiptoss by landing on his feet. Dijak cartwheels and goes for a boot but Lee blocks and sends him reeling. Dijak says his catchphrase and shoves Lee before he can do the same. Dijak tries to repeat the crisscross spot but Lee catches him in the powerbomb position. Dijak lands on the second rope in a corner and lands a monkey flip but Lee lands on his feet. The fans chant ‘Bask in his –‘ alongside Lee but they, like Lee, stop when Dijak boots Lee’s face. Dijak mocks the crowd but Lee goes for a back suplex. Dijak lands on his feet, only to be clotheslined onto the apron. Lee goes for a powerbomb but Dijak laces his arm around the second rope and lands a thrust kick. Then Dijak lands a jumping chokeslam onto the apron. Dijak hits forearms to Lee’s back and head, but when he trash-talks him, Lee pops him up and goes for another powerbomb. Dijak lands on his feet and hits a discus boot. Lee remains on his feet so Dijak charges and lads a Fosbury Flop like he’s AJ Styles. But Lee still stays on his feet. Not only that, Lee catches Dijak in the fireman’s carry and drives his head into the ringpost. Now it’s Lee’s turn to dive. Topé con hilo to the floor. Keith Lee really does live up to his “Limitless” nickname.
Back in the ring, Lee goes for the Spirit Bomb but Dijak flips out and lands a boot and an elbow. Dijak charges but Lee drops him with a discus clothesline. The two trade stiff strikes until Lee hits a free fall drop/back crossbody/shoulderblock combo. Lee lifts Dijak onto his shoulders but Dijak escapes. Lee catches his boot this time but Dijak slaps his face, which Lee no-sells. Lee does the kick flip counter and launches Dijak so strongly that Dijak lands on his back. Dijak kicks out at two. Lee tries a superplex but Dijak dumps him outside. Dijak goozles Lee but Lee breaks free and tries another top-rope move. Except Dijak hits first with elbows and then lifts Lee onto his shoulders while still on the second rope. With Lee on his shoulders, Dijak dives and hits a fireman’s carry sitout spinebuster. Insane strength from Dijak. The referee counts one, two, Lee kicks out and bails to the floor. But he doesn’t find any safety there. Dijak springboard and hits a corkscrew kick to the floor.
The fans chant “please don’t die” as Dijak throws Lee back into the ring. After about twenty seconds of holding his hand up Undertaker-style, Dijak goozles Lee again. He lifts Lee up for a chokeslam/chokebreaker but Lee flips over and lands on his feet. Lee connects with the Spirit Bomb. But the impact causes Dijak to bounce to his feet. Dijak superkicks Lee’s face in, springboards to the top rope, and lands a diving moonsault. One, two, no, Lee sits up and grabs Dijak like Cena does. Lee rolls back, pops Dijak onto his shoulders, and drops him with the fireman’s carry jackhammer. One, two, and thr – Dijak survives.
After another thirty seconds of nothing happening, Lee climbs to the third rope. Lee hits a Vader-style moonsault and covers Dijak but Dijak kicks out at one. Lee pancakes Dijak in a corner and hits some double-hand overhand chops. But Dijak taunts Lee asking for more. Lee falls for Dijak’s ploy and misses the chops. Dijak superkicks Lee and then hoists him into the torture rack position. Torture Rack into a knee to Lee’s face. Dijak covers but this time Lee kicks out at one. Lee kicks out with so much force that it sends Dijak to the floor. Dijak recovers and goes for a dive on a now-standing Lee. He flies off…and Lee catches him mid-flight. A second spirit bomb connects! One, two, Dijak kicks out again.
The token fan chants of “please don’t die” and “fight forever” echo throughout the venue as both wrestlers struggle to their feet. Lee pulls Dijak back into the ring and sees two jerseys in Dijak’s hands. Dijak offers one to Lee and as Lee puts it on Dijak superkicks him. Dijak lifts Lee onto his shoulders for another Feast Your Eyes finisher. He smashes Lee’s face in with his knee…but Lee doesn’t even leave his feet. He slumps down a bit and then fires up. Dijak can’t believe it. Lee takes advantage of Dijak’s shock and lifts him up onto his shoulders once again…and slams him with another fireman’s carry jackhammer. One, two, and three! Lee wins the match!
Winner after 21:42: Keith Lee
This match was schizophrenic. Both Lee and Dijak tried to walk the tightrope between silly and serious and both of them fell off on the silly side. The match had poor pacing, inconsistent-bordering-on-nonexistent selling, and a threadbare story. The only two things it had going for it were the impressive athleticism from both wrestlers and the rabid PWG fans. But those two things alone does not a 5-Star match make.
I get the idea that Lee’s gimmick is that he’s limitless and can do cruiserweight stuff despite being over 300 pounds. But that approach just didn’t work here. The match’s pacing was slow at some points and strangely frenetic at others. The move execution was bad too, with some spots being blown and both guys struggling so hard to complete their sequences that they didn’t even both hiding the fact that they were cooperating.
And as for story or psychology, well, there wasn’t much on that front, either. Most of the early moments was both wrestlers jockeying for control. But not to gain a psychological edge or to do more damage, but so that they can get their catchphrase in. It was like what Adam Cole and others like him do in their matches: throw in his cheesy catchphrase during the match for a cheap pop that doesn’t add to the match whatsoever. The rest of the match saw both guys trade bombs and build up these increasingly-daring and complicated moves to try and keep each other down. Normally that is a sound way to wrestle but these two guys went overboard towards the end. Not only did both wrestlers kick out of each other’s finishers at one, but at one point Dijak took a full-power Spirit Bomb and literally got to his feet and completed his own sequence complete with a diving moonsault. Sure it got the crowd to pop, but it was just so absurd. These guys threw structure to the wind and just went all-in with the self-indulgence and nonsensical approach to wrestling.
And while the crowd was indeed loud for the match, that isn’t a big accomplishment here. I’ve seen many PWG matches and one thing I’ve noticed is that this crowd will cheer and chant over pretty much anything. They cheer comedy, silly high-spots, catchphrases, power moves, dives, real punches, phony slaps, and much more, all with the same energy. So of course guys like Lee and Dijak got big reactions here; they didn’t need to put in that much effort because it was so easy for them to get any sort of reaction. It’s like this audience was the 2017 version of Hulk Hogan’s audience from his peak in the 1980s: Hogan got monster pops doing very little and being over-the-top and so did both Lee and Dijak here.
Of course, this match would’ve been better if Lee and Dijak decided on one approach instead of two. They tried to be both serious and silly to…I guess, show they can tell two stories at once? To get two different sorts of reactions in both cheers for their moves and laughs for their antics? But it isn’t a good idea to tell two stories poorly instead of one story well. Their approach to making this match a mix between serious competition and silly joke (as seen with the catchphrase pauses and the jersey spot at the end) made this match come across almost like a parody of wrestling.
Final Rating: **3/4
I can’t recommend watching this match unless you plan on asking yourself ‘WTF am I watching?’. These two had better matches in NXT, both against each other and against others. The match doesn’t really feature anything special, unique, or game-changing. Everything in this match has been done before by other wrestlers. Even the ‘rabid crowd’ isn’t a reason to check this out because, a) there are better matches with crowds that are just as wild if not wilder; and b) we’ve already seen that a 5-Star match is possible without having a crowd at all.
This is very much an overrated and otherwise forgettable match. Even if you’re a fan of Lee, Dijak, or both, there are better matches between them out there. Don’t let the notorious ‘it got over with that particular audience’ argument fool you; this isn’t as fun as the PWG faithful make it out to be.