The Rust Belt Report: Hard Knocks Wrestling in Cleveland, Ohio (May 5, 2013)

The Rust Belt Report chronicles the travels of Cleveland-based graduate student and pro wrestling fanatic Gary Joseph Wilson as he journeys across Ohio, with occasional forays into Pennsylvania, and his beloved home state of Indiana in search of Indie Pro Wrestling shows. You can and should plug shows for him to attend on Twitter @gjw34.

It’s amazing to me that I lived in Cleveland for almost a year before learning about all the wrestling promotions in Ohio. Which brings me to a minor rant, why the hell don’t indie companies promote themselves, even just a little bit? I feel like I have to navigate a maze on Twitter to find out when shows are going to happen, and half the time it’s the wrestlers rather than the promotions plugging the shows so it feels like I have to search through every local wrestler’s Twitter feed to find out basic information such as dates and venues. I will come to your damned shows if I know about them. HKW at least has a website, something some of the other lower level indies apparently can’t be bothered with. It’s like I’m trying to find out top-secret information or something.

posterAnyway, Hard Knock Wrestling is operated by local pro wrestler “The First Black President of Wrestling” Lamont Williams and is affiliated with the Cleveland Dungeon Professional Wrestling School and Training Center. For lack of a better way to describe it, HKW is Cleveland’s blackest wrestling promotion in that about half the fans and workers are African-Americans. Michael Tarver of NXT fame is their most famous wrestler, although he was not at this show. Most of the wrestlers on this show worked the MCW show in Elyria I attended on Saturday, but weren’t heavily featured, so it was nice to see what they could do with more time.

The show was held at the B&M Entertainment Center which is a combination barbeque restaurant and skating rink. The food was a definite highlight of the show, as I had an amazing Polish Girl sandwich there. For those of you unfamiliar with that sandwich type (which would probably mean that you’re fortunate enough to live outside of Cleveland), a Polish Girl is a kielbasa sausage in a hot dog bun topped with pork shoulder meat, French fries, coleslaw, and smothered in barbeque sauce. (A Polish Boy is the same, but omits the pork shoulder meat.)  

Anyways back to wrestling, Hard Knocks Wrestling appeared to be using the same training ring that MCW used the night before. The show was a Sunday matinée entitled “Winner Take All.” There was a crowd of about 40 or so in attendance.

A word on match ratings, I’m a really easy grader. I rate matches on a B average curve. If it entertains me enough to not regret going to the show it gets a B, if I really like it, it gets an A. If I give it a grade lower than a C, it was actively terrible. I don’t rate on objective match quality, I rate on entertainment value. (For example, I would rate the Hart/Michaels Iron Man match a C+ at best.) I just want to be entertained, nothing more, nothing less.

Match #1: Alex Matthews defeated Bruiser Schmidt in approximately five minutes.

Both of these guys worked the battle royal in MCW on Saturday. Matthews has a pretty boy look to him, and was still bruised up from half the MCW roster stiffing the hell out of him the night before.  Bruiser is a stocky bald guy that entered with an unlit cigar in his mouth. I believe both of these guys are relatively new to wrestling. Prior to match, Bruiser “burned” Matthews with his unlit cigar, which Matthews sold. The match was surprisingly entertaining, with Bruiser throwing stiff punches and Matthews pinballing around from them. Matthews got the win with a fluke roll-up. Grade: B-

After the match, HKW’s dominant heel stable The Kartel came out and surrounded the ring before beating down Alex Matthews. The Kartel consists of two tag teams The Hit List (two very large, obese black men whose names I didn’t catch), HKW Tag Team Champions Cleveland Sucks (Cory James & Marcus Knight), Cleveland Dungeon Champion “Crazy White Boy” Danny Stiles, Isaac Montana, and their manager Manuel Antonio Rodriguez. Matthews again got stiffed, so I’ve got to think that it’s a new guy hazing thing.

A large portion of the HKW roster led by Lamont Williams (a face here) then ran in to clear the ring. This set-up the main event, a six vs. six elimination tag match between the Kartel and Team HKW with the Kartel’s titles on the line versus control of HKW. The faces than sprayed the Kartel with silly string to get them to leave the ringside area. This brought out the storyline owner of HKW who warned them that there was a snake in the group, and that one of the members of Team HKW was actually a member of the Kartel. Pretty entertaining angle, although I wonder why every indie promotion seems to feel the constant need to rehash the NWO.  

Match #2: Kenny Hendrix defeated “Simply Sexy” Shawn Blaze by count out in approximately eight minutes.

 Shawn Blaze is an Ohio area regular, who was in night’s best match the night before in MCW. Kenny Hendrix is a huge, ripped, and possibly roided out, Bob Sapp-looking fellow who wrestles in boxing gear minus the gloves. Blaze was doing a basic arrogant gimmick, while Hendrix seemed to be working a sort of gentle giant gimmick. Hendrix controlled most of the match with some decent, albeit a little sloppy, power offense such a double underhook suplex. During the rare moments were Blaze was in control, Hendrix looked to be terrible at selling. Overall the match was decent. Although he’s extremely green, Hendrix showed some potential. Grade: B-

Match #3: The 216 Mafia (Morty Rackem and the “Big Daddy of Destruction” J-Rocc) defeated Jesse Burns and “Hard Hittin” Ryan Whitten in approximately fifteen minutes.

You wouldn’t expect it from the name, but 216 Mafia is two fat, sweaty white guys. J-Rocc is a longtime veteran of wrestling, and has worked matches in WWE and TNA, most famously jobbing to Jeff Jarrett in 40 seconds on Impact in 2004. He’s built a bit like Vader. Morty Rackem has worked some of the lower-level Ohio Indies, and does a pirate gimmick but looks more like a homeless person than anything. Ryan Whitten is a big Ryback-looking fellow that also worked the last MCW show. Jesse Burns appears to be a student wrestler.

This match had a ton of stalling but some of J-Rocc’s antics were funny. When he was jawing with the mainly African-American audience he shouted “I don’t understand Ebonics.” Another fun moment came when a crowd member shouted “I paid to see Jesse Burns” and J-Rocc responded “You would be the first.” The match was pretty basic and far too long for what it was, with the 216 Mafia getting the cheap win in around fifteen minutes in a match that had been announced as having a ten minute time limit. Grade: C+

Match #4: Josh Kano Emmanuel defeated Eric Alvarado in approximately eight minutes.

Kano is the head trainer at Cleveland Dungeon Professional Wrestling School and worked in RoH for a cup of coffee. He also jobbed to Sabu at one of those horrid Juggalo Championship Wrestling shows. Kanos’s gimmick seems to be that he’s an angry young black man, with his ring gear proclaiming “Live Fast, Die Young.” I couldn’t find any information on Alvarado other that he’s from New York and has been wrestling for a few years. He looks a bit like a whiter version if Santino Marella. Alvarado worked a pretty sloppy match, but the match was probably the best one of the show thanks to Kano. Kano has a really good presence to him, and won clean with a heel hook or ankle lock type submission. Grade: B

Match #5: Seth Allen defeated “The Aftermath” Justin Lee in a submission match in approximately eleven minutes.

Justin Lee is about six feet tall and ripped, although very narrowly built. He has worked across town for Absolute Intense Wrestling and Mega Championship Wrestling. I don’t know much about Seth Allen other than that he wrestled on an episode of Smackdown in 2011. Allen and Lee used to be the tag team champions in HKW and have been feuding for a couple of months. The announcer did not mention that this was a submission match, and I would not have known that it was if I hadn’t checked the card on the HKW website prior to coming.  The match was pretty dull and largely consisted of the two stalling and trading submissions. I was pretty excited to see a Crossface Chickenwing get used at one point. There just wasn’t a whole lot going on in this match. The post-match angle was more exciting than the match, as after Allen won clean he got attacked post match by Lee, and his girlfriend had to jump in from the crowd to stop Lee.  Grade: C-  

Match #6: The Kartel (The Hit List, Cleveland Sucks (Cory James & Marcus Knight), Cleveland Dungeon Champion “Crazy White Boy” Danny Stiles, Isaac Montana) defeated Team HKW (Lamont Williams, “Mr. RBI” Izeah Bonds, Mr. Friday Night, Nightmare, Mike Rayne, and the Volcano) in a six on six elimination match in approximately fifty minutes.

As far as the heels go, The Hit List is a tag team of obese black men dressed like nightclub security.  Marcus Knight and Cory James of Cleveland Sucks are the Tag Team Champions. Their gimmick is that they hate Cleveland and wear LeBron James jerseys and Pittsburgh Steelers merchandise to illustrate that point. Danny Stiles is the Cleveland Dungeon champion. I wasn’t able to find out any real background information for any of these guys. The final heel was Issac Montana who does a Scarface style gimmick and has worked across Cleveland.

The faces were led by “The First Black President of Wrestling” Lamont Williams, a veteran worker who runs the company. “Mr. RBI” Izaeh Bond is a fat black guy whose gimmick is that he plays baseball. Mr. Friday Night is young, small white guy who I believe to be fresh out of wrestling school. The Volcano is a fat white guy that wears a mask, and the most ridiculous tights I’ve ever seen. It’s like a flea market version of a CHIKARA gimmick. I have no recollection of Nightmare, and Mike Rayne other than my note that they were in the match.

The Kombat Kid, a face, and ally to Team HKW was scheduled to be the special guest referee. Prior to the match, the storyline owner of HKW came back out and said that Kombat Kid was the mole for The Kartel and would turn on them unless Team HKW did something. Williams, who helped train Kombat Kid, said that he didn’t believe that Kid would join the Kartel. Kid also acted outraged at the suggestion but agreed to step down as referee to ease the minds of Team HKW.

Finally, the match began and I was left to wonder why the hell someone had booked a six versus six match in such a tiny ring. It was literally impossible from me to see anything from my seat so I had to move and stand for most of the match. And what a clusterfuck it turned out to be.

Again, I feel the need ask who would book guys fresh out of wrestling school to work a fifty minute match? Even in a team environment they looked lost at times. There were a few botched spots, which was understandable given the greenness of a lot of the guys, but they would then repeat the spot until they got it right which is inexcusable.  

The booking of the eliminations was also questionable. The faces got the first three eliminations and had a six on three advantage at one point.  Now I’m not a booker or anything, but wouldn’t it make more sense to book the faces as the team in peril? The Kartel also had an unnamed masked wrestler interfering on their behalf, and it seemed to take interference, and about a million referee distractions, for them to get any offense in.

Danny Stiles and Isaac Montana gave the best performances in the match. Stiles in particular looked good with lots of crisp work. He was also the only heel booked strong throughout the match. The match saw ref bumps to two different refs. The refs were bumped like twenty minutes into the match and ended up having to sell being knocked out for like a half an hour on the floor. As a result, Kombat Kid was forced to enter the match as a referee. Kid reluctantly counted pinfalls for the Kartel as Danny Stiles single-handedly eliminated three of the faces.

The finish saw it come down to Lamont Williams against Cleveland Sucks when sure enough, Kombat Kid turned on Williams by clotheslining him and counting a pinfall to eliminate him. I really didn’t understand the booking of that moment. Why explicitly tell the audience there’s going to be a heel turn before it happens, unless you’re planning a swerve? Also it didn’t really make sense, why wouldn’t have Kombat Kid just turned on the faces as soon as possible? Why would he let the heel stable he was joining be in a position to be eliminated? The whole match was a mess. Grade: C-   

Final Verdict

Blah. The show wasn’t terrible. I enjoy seeing new guys get their working legs under them, so I had no issues with the workrate on this. The booking on the other hand was terrible. (Still better than the booking in Prime Wrestling; but that’s a bit like saying Mussolini was a nice guy in comparison to Hitler.) In the end, Danny Stiles really impressed me. He went within 24 hours of being a guy I saw at MCW and had no recollection of, to a guy I’m looking forward to seeing more of in the future.

Next week on The Rust Belt Report: Gary ventures home to Northern Indiana for a Revolution Championship Wrestling show featuring Dan Severn, Nikki St. John, Jay Bradley, Maria Kanellis and a guy that Gary’s fairly sure he went to high school with. 

(Images courtesy of Hard Knock Wrestling.)


When I'm not watching professional wrestling, I'm a second year law student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. I previously studied at the University of Southern Indiana, the Universidad de Belgrano in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Heidelberg Center for Latin America in Santiago, Chile.

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  1. I was so excited just seeing Michael Tarver’s name.

    I went to a Smackdown taping in Columbus last year when visiting family in Ohio and I sat near some guy who claimed to work matches in the Cleveland independent scene. Makes me wonder if he has been invoked with any of the shows from your reports…

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