House Of Hardcore 13 was a show I went into relatively blind. I’m about two years into watching wrestling again so I can’t even pretend to be the most knowledgeable guy on the independent wrestling scene. But at the end of the day, it was a fun show that capped a fun day that also happened to solidify how much I love and appreciate the world of professional wrestling.
Kicking off the day was an Icons Of Wrestling convention held at the 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia, formerly known as the ECW Arena. It is remembered fondly by many in my city and many others around the world for the sometimes legendary, sometimes crazy, sometimes outright insane things that took place in that building. One of my regrets as a wrestling fan is that I never saw an ECW show there, I only settled for neighborhood shows in high school, which I have to admit were just as awesome. The convention was attended by Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Lex Luger, Jimmy Hart, Bobby Heenan, X-Pac, Billy Gunn, Gangrel, Colt Cabana, Rob Van Dam, Ricky Steamboat, Booker T, Mickie James, Stan Hansen, Veda Scott, Bill Apter, and believe it or not, many more. There were so many great names from the past, as well as some great niche acts. The excitement and happiness around the room from both fans and talent could be felt throughout the arena. Something about a group of wrestlers and wrestling fans generates a level of excitement that is hard to explain.
I was fortunate enough to meet two of my all-time favorites, Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle, which were two really incredible moments. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate more and more the physical and mental toll these men and women put themselves through to entertain us. I’ve grown to sympathize with the problems the business sometimes causes in their personal lives. To get to tell both of those men ‘thank you’ for not just being available at the convention, but for everything they’ve done, all the memories they’ve given me was a real blessing. In addition to meeting those legends, I had the pleasure of running into one of the friends I made from my visit to the Performance Center in Orlando, Jeff Seltzer. He is one of a handful of fans I’ve stayed in touch with from that day in September. He had tweeted me asking if I would be at the show, since it was in my hometown and before I could reply I walked right into him at the convention. He was able to hang out with my friends and I as we navigated a nearly 14 hour day of wrestling together. Also, while in line to meet HBK, I ran into a couple guys, Derek McCauley and Russell D’Agostino, that I met at Mick Foley’s show back in the fall. We spent about 30-40 minutes talking wrestling in Mick’s meet and greet line and it was fun to catch up with a couple of guys I figured I’d never see again.
Fast forwarding a bit to the wrestling action, about three hours after the convention ended, the arena was fully transformed into an actual wrestling venue, complete with a ring, lights and an entrance ramp. I attended a Ring Of Honor show in this building in August that included Jay Lethal, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and The Young Bucks. While this show didn’t have the same big names, there was just something exciting in the air. My good friends Eric Trembicki, Dan Johnson and Mike Day were sort of the masterminds behind attending the show and I’m grateful the invitation was put out there. We sat in the first row, ringside, just to the left of the entrance ramp. In an arena that small and intimate, you might as well be in the corner awaiting a hot tag. From our seats we could see the Hardcore Hall Of Fame banners from legends like Terry Funk, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Eddie Gilbert and Sabu.
The show opened with Tommy Dreamer and every member of the night’s card coming to the ring and leading a tribute to recently deceased Balls Mahoney. He had a lot of friends in that ring and fans in that arena and everyone was ready to dedicate the night to his memory. Dreamer discussed how this whole wrestling family, both talent and fans, are a family and how it is great that we are all here for each other, them entertaining us and us supporting them. Interestingly enough, Derek from the Shawn Michaels line had texted me earlier, and I replied that it’s cool to know that the wrestling community is such a small world. He replied with:
“Absolutely, it’s better that way. Close knit group of likeminded people supporting something they love.”
I loved that response, and feel almost like that could be the mission statement for a much more positively viewed incarnation of the Internet Wrestling Community. Especially in light of the reactions from the crowd throughout the evening. The crowd was electric prior to the first match, when Ricky Steamboat addressed us and gave us a few chops on Vik Dalishus.
The opening match was TNA Women’s Knockout Champion Jade and Thea Trinidad. The women did incredible work, had the crowd behind them and delivered throughout a 12 minute match. Jade’s heel work and playing with the crowd was especially impressive. I never watch TNA but she looks worth tuning in for.
The opener was followed by a really good tag match between Team Tremendous and Eddie Kingston and Ben Ortiz. Team Tremendous were a very unorthodox team consisting of Bill Carr and Dan Barry. Both guys could work and they were a really fun an different tag team. I recommend anyone who likes tag team wrestling to give them a look.
Billy Gunn went over Bull Dempsey, now known as Bull James. When they were attacked post match, X-Pac ran in to make the save to a nice ovation. I hadn’t seen the spinning heel kick in a while. As Jim Ross would say, “One hell of an athlete!”
In what was probably the best match of the night, Tony Nese, Chris Dickinson and Alex Reynolds faced off in a Triple Threat Elimination match. Anyone who clamors for matches with Sami Zayn, Neville and AJ Styles would have loved this one. The action was both fast and non-stop. The three worked all over and around the ring, bringing the crowd to it’s collective feet multiple times. The match was ultimately won by Tony Nese, who eliminated his competition back to back. He is another name to look out for. I don’t know what type of personality or mic skills he has, but strictly as a worker he was off the charts.
In the final match of the first act, Tommy Dreamer faced off with the incredibly ripped Pepper Parks, who was accompanied to the ring by his wife Cherry Bomb and her bodyguard TJ. His wife did a lot of grating voice work on the mic for him, which I always think is such a great heel tactic. He stuck to posing while she generated even more heat from the fans. In order to help even the playing field, Dreamer brought Mickie James to the ring to watch his back. She got a lot of love from Philadelphia and got involved in the match, but as Tommy Dreamer does, he put over the younger talent.
— Tommy Dreamer (@THETOMMYDREAMER) April 18, 2016
To open the final act, Sami Callihan, formerly Solomon Crowe on NXT, faced off against Lucha Underground’s Brian Cage. The crowd seemed equally behind both men and they didn’t disappoint, delivering an incredibly physical match. Callihan even used a Stop sign provided by a fan at ringside at one point. Even though Sami lost the match, his ring presence, his ability to connect with the crowd and the camera were on display and showed what NXT saw in him in the first place. He tore the house down and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him yet.
The penultimate match saw Colt Cabana and Chris Hero challenge Pro Wrestling NOAH GHC Tag Team Champions Davey Boy Smith, Jr. and Lance Hoyt. There was a fun moment when the crowd got on Hoyt for his “tramp stamp” to which he replied, “It’s a champ stamp, didn’t you see the belts?!” After putting up an admirable fight and generating a ton of support from the fans, Cabana and Hero finally succumbed to the retaining tag team champions.
The main event of the evening, introduced by former ECW announcer Stephen DeAngelis, was Rhino vs. Rob Van Dam. After many marijuana inspired chants directed at RVD, Rhino announced he is now straight edge and is running for office in his home state of Michigan. He shoved a fan at ringside and since RVD is also from Michigan, he told Rhino that he had just lost his vote. The match ended with RVD putting Rhino through a table and hitting the famous Five Star Frog Splash, which looks as impressive as ever. At the conclusion, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared over the loudspeakers as The Sandman himself came out with his Singapore Cane and his Budweiser’s. He shared them with the crowd and his former ECW brethren in the ring. Rhino explained that he would love nothing more than to smoke at ton of weed and drink two cases of beer in Philly after the show. He said he gave up both things a few years ago, not to make money or make a bigger name for himself, but because he wanted to be better inside the ring for us. He said if he’s no good inside the ring, he is no good to us and he might as well just leave. He apologized to the fan he shoved, gave him his beer as a peace offering and said it wasn’t personal, he just loves being a heel and entertaining us. He thanked Sandman for helping him have the career he’s had and he said he hoped he’s been able to help the kids at NXT the same way. They paid tribute to Balls Mahoney one more time and shared a few more beers with the Philadelphia crowd.
Full disclosure, I was never big on the whole Sandman thing. I though it was nothing but a representation of the worst element of the city of Philadelphia. It was a real life wrestling incarnation of the fans that threw snowballs at Santa or the thirty idiots that went to the NFL Draft and booed the selection of Donovan McNabb. I always resented it, because I knew the whole Santa thing was overblown and the whole booing of McNabb was literally thirty clowns, not representative of an entire city. But, being in that building, with that crowd, I almost understood it for the first time. He wasn’t just supposed to be representing a certain demographic, he was just supposed to be one of us, just another guy from the neighborhood that was working hard to get by, who could take a beating like no one else and keep getting back up.
House Of Hardcore 13 had everything you could ask for. It had a live crowd that was ready to buy into whatever happened inside that ring. It had great athletes risking their lives, it had high flying, hard hitting, loudmouthed action from beginning to end. In what other art form can you be excited for the future of someone new you’re seeing for the first time one minute and the next minute be steeped in nostalgia from 20 years ago? And not just once, but numerous times throughout the evening? Wrestling is the only place that can happen. The only form of entertainment that can almost literally transport you through space and time. And aside from the product itself is the people you’re sharing the experience with. We may all see it through a different set of eyes, appreciate different aspects of it, but we are all out there feeling the same things and being a part of it together. House Of Hardcore, both the show and the crowd, made me appreciate the business of pro wrestling even more and validated everything I love and cherish about it.
Maya Angelou is often famously quoted as saying, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Pro wrestling continues to make me feel like I belong, we all belong to something bigger that has been passed down to us. And it’s up to us to continue the circle. I already bought my ticket for House Of Hardcore’s return to my city in September, so please do the same and support small indie shows in your town. I promise you will be happy that you did.
Check out my new podcast, Mat Madness, every Wednesday on iTunes and Podbean, as well as the video show on YouTube. It’s a fan oriented show, so if you’d ever like to take part, let me know. Thank you!