The Ballance Sheet #2 : The Match Of The Five Finishes

RanaHey, folks. I’m Gary Ballance, and this is my guide to the often weird, occasionally wonderful world of independent wrestling.

The Botchamania phenomenon has been incredibly popular for many years, poking some light-hearted fun at mistakes and botches in matches or promos. In that same vein, I wanna look at the setup of shows, and highlight some of the ways a show can be botched or go wrong; either just slightly, or completely.

Breaking it down to its simplest form, you need the following to put on a show: a venue; a ring; wrestlers; staff; and a crowd. Over the next couple of articles, I’m gonna (hopefully) provide a little insight into the effects each can have on a successful show, either hypothetically, or through actual examples I’ve experienced over the years.

Starting with the ring. It may sound obvious, but you can’t put on a wrestling show without a ring, right? A ring, in a way, is like a jigsaw, and if you’re missing a piece- or a piece is faulty- it can cause problems. What if the ring doesn’t turn up at all, though? This happened with a show I was on in 2008, for IWW, in Cork.

Though I previously alluded to ‘botches’ at the beginning of this article, this wasn’t a botch, no one was at fault, and it was just a really bad bit of luck. The show was stacked with IWW’s own Irish talent, and a load of ex-WWE/ECW and TNA stars, like Daivari, Raven, Balls Mahoney and Nigel McGuinness. We all travelled down to Cork on a coach bus, while a van transporting the ring followed behind shortly after.

Just as a brief aside, one former ECW star behaved pretty deplorably, in my view, demanding the seats at the back (as he was “a veteran”) and angrily inquiring why there were non-wrestlers on the bus, referring to IWW referees, and trainees that were coming down to help out at the show. Poor form.

Unfortunately, the ring van got into difficulty when the engine was irreparably damaged on the trip down.

It was getting closer and closer to show time, and there was no sign of the ring. The advertised ‘door time’ had passed, and the fans outside were (understandably) getting antsy. Stalling methods were employed, early on, with a pre-show meet & greet, road stories from the ECW guys, and the surprisingly impressive mad magic skills’ of Nigel McGuinness.

A replacement van had been dispatched, in the meantime, to transfer the contents of the ring, but it was too late, and the show had to be cancelled. It was a really unfortunate event. The previous show in Cork had drawn in excess of 600 fans, so hopes were high, and everyone was disappointed. The fans, the wrestlers, the promoter, the ring crew. Everyone.

Just one of those freak force majeure occurrences that happens every once in a blue moon. I’d heard about the same thing happening on a show in the UK about ten years ago, but that was due to some skulduggery and sabotage, apparently. The Irish Whip one was just a freak accident. More ring stories to come next time, anyway.

On to venue,  now. This is usually the first thing to be sorted, if you’re putting on a show. Once you’ve got your date and venue, you can crack on with the advertising and promotion. The range of venues I’ve wrestled in over the years has been quite diverse, to say the least: arenas, community centres, sports halls, working men’s clubs, parish halls, nightclubs, hotel function rooms, theatres, school halls, car parks, and industrial units, to name the ones I can remember. A fairly wide interpretation for the word “venue” can be used, so.

I was working for DPW in Yorkshire a few years ago in the Morley Working Men’s’ Club. Nice place, but really cramped in the backstage area, and the roof was really low. That said, the low roof helped contribute to a cracking atmosphere. (On one show, actually, I accidentally broke the emergency exit door when I got thrown through it by Jonny Storm. Rather than push down on the release bar like any normal, sane individual would do, I missed the damn thing and just took the door bump, crashing to the outside, where it had just begun snowing.)

On this one particular evening, though, someone tripped the fire alarm. It wasn’t a case of a quick blast, and someone turning it off. It just kept going. And going. And going. Realistically, I think it went for almost ten minutes; certainly, during the majority of one of the matches. Either the fine folks of Morley were self-loathing masochists who would happily burn to death in a packed working men’s’ club watching simulated fighting, or they figured the alarm was just broken. (I still haven’t come to a definitive conclusion on that just yet.) Either way, the fire alarm debacle could’ve been something to mess up the show, but everyone just took it in their stride and got on with it. Botch averted.

Finding good, reliable staff can be a huge help in putting on a successful, and well-run show. People to sell tickets at the door; people to sell merchandise or refreshments; people to relay messages to the back from the promoter and floor staff; people to operate the sound system and/or lighting; ring announcers/MCs; and, very importantly, referees.

A good ref, who knows what (s)he is doing, can add immensely to a match, and aid the building of suspense and drama. One who doesn’t can throw a major spanner in the works. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic referees over the years; that said, I’ve also had some memorable experiences with bad ones.

At the end of 2009, I was wrestling in Aldershot, in England, for a place called Plex Wrestling. I’d a match with Jay Knox, a very nice chap, and a good wrestler, too. Jay was ‘going over’ (winning) and we’d planned a nice, little cheap finish to get him some heat. I was gonna try to sunset flip him out of the corner, but he’d hold onto the ropes (reversing the pin) and get the win. The key was for the ref to not see him holding the ropes; we explained this to him beforehand. I believe the phrase “don’t look at the ropes” was used verbatim.

What do you think happened?

Yep- he looked up, saw Jay holding the ropes, and wouldn’t count. We came up with a modified finish to try to cover it, doing another sunset variation near the apron, where I’d slingshotted in, and he held onto the ropes again. Mirroring the attempted original finish, the ref just stared at Jay hanging onto the ropes and refused to count. Another finish bites the dust.

I called another finish where Jay would charge me in the corner; I’d get the boot up, and catch him with a victory roll, which he’d reverse. Again, the ref (rather than just look intently at my shoulders and count) looked up at Jay, who’d hooked the ropes again with his arm, and stopped counting.

In all fairness, the guy had only refereed a match or two before. Saying that, though,  the cheap heel finish is a wrestling staple. It’s your bread and butter! I was astonished that three of our attempted finishes had fallen by the wayside. Jay went for a standard finish, hitting me with an elbow drop off the second rope. I kept my shoulders down but, inexplicably, the ref didn’t count the three. (That’s finish #4 gone, for those counting.) Jay got super-pissed and slapped the ref- actually slapped him in the face- while I lay on my back laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. At that point, it was all I could do.

‘Five’ proved to be the magic number, as Jay caught me with a backslide (with his feet on the ropes) and we wrapped up this bizarre, but very amusing, match. It still stands, if you can believe, as one of my favourite stories from over the years. The Match of Five Finishes, I’ve dubbed it.

Moral of the story, anyway: the ref is a very important role- if you’re running a show, get someone who knows what they’re doing.

I shall call it there for the moment, folks. Don’t wish to outstay my welcome (though I’m guessing I’ve long since done that.) More mishaps and so forth,  next time around.

Thanks for reading.



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