Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Ballance Sheet, Blog XXIX

Over a year since the last one of these? Must be a record. Not one I’m proud of, mind you – just sayin’. At any rate, welcome back, guys, and cheers for checking this out. Been a busy year, a nice bit going on, and a few things to write about, so let’s get straight to it, shall we? (I’m being rhetorical. This blog will commence forthwith.)

Festival shows are a mixed bag. I’ve been doing them intermittently since 2011, and no two are ever the same. They’re largely dependent on the weather, the spot we’re given to set the ring up in, who else is part of the (usually smaller) crew and how many people actually stick around to check us out. Above all else, the format usually tends to make it a long day; rather than the usual 2-3 hour start-to-finish evening/matinée show, matches tend to take place one-at-a-time at the top of every hour, over the course of about four or five hours, so there’s a lot of cooling down and re-warming up between bouts. A fun festival show is a great high, but the poor ones are incredibly depressing and even soul-destroying at the best of times.

A festival last year in Mullingar was a miserable experience – a wet day in a muddy field, surrounded by a handful of disinterested indigenous folk that were killing time until the Irish midlands’ answer to Crufts kicked off. That was a bad one, and I’ve had a couple where I’ve gotten sunburn, too, and that’s really not fun either; the burning, the liberal application of aftersun/aloe vera, and the inevitable moulting one week later? Yeah. None of that’s good.

On the other end of the scale, a festival last year in Ardmore, Co. Waterford was a tremendously fun day, kicking off with a battle royal between me, TJ Meehan, Cambo Cray and Tiger Watson (a sound trainee from Northern Ireland, who was playing a golfer gimmick – a heel, but nowhere near as obnoxious as Rory McIlroy.) I also faced TJ in a spirited singles match, where the ring was surrounded (all the way to the apron) by animated and vocal locals.

Another festival show as recently as last weekend (mid July 2017, as I write this) was an absolute blast. As part of the Arklow Seabreeze Festival, we had the ring planted in the middle of the main street for an hour and a half, and were able to perform a full show start-to-finish, rather than the usual ‘one match every hour’ format most festivals seem to favour. Opening in a lively triple threat with some great talent from Cork-based CCW – Butch Armstrong, and the (thoroughly deserved) first CCW Women’s Champ Raven Creed- the crowd were many in number and were with us from the start. Along with the triple threat, I faced TJ Meehan in another singles – always enjoy working the guy- and finished with a handicap tag match: TJ, Raven and another talented CCW dude Matt Skylar against me and a masked Hispanic fellow called Green Inferno. (Through my primary school Spanish, his English for Professionals and Businessmen, and a lot of basic sign language and loud talking, we were able to cobble together a strategy that won us the match in the end.) A really fun day with a great crew (and I didn’t get burnt!)

At the Arklow Seabreeze Festival with Butch Armstrong & Raven Creed

More festival shows to come over the summer, and hopefully they’ll be more like Arklow and less like Mullingar.

Though doing ‘one-and-done’ shows is cool, the chance to perform regularly for audiences that know you allows the opportunity for character development and storyline progression, too, and that opens up doors for a lot more interesting stuff. For me, personally, some of my most creatively satisfying work in the last few years has been with Marion Armstrong in CCW, in our year-plus long feud. Marion – an actor by profession- really brought it in the promo stakes, and was a terrific foil for my character, giving me so much material and so many avenues for my own promos.

Matches between the two of us book-ended CCW’s 2016 run. He and I faced off for (at that time) my All-Star Championship on the first show in late January and, after a year of massively escalating tensions, we faced off at the end of November in a Last Man Standing match. Though the road to November’s LMS had one or two bumps (excuse the pun) along the way – including a very disappointing Street Fight, called short due to an unruly audience (read my previous blog for specifics)- it was a great journey, and Marion was an absolute pleasure to work with; a guy very much on my wavelength, and equally driven.

Battling Marion at our ill-fated Street Fight in mid-2016 (c: Shea Wolf Media)

Our LMS match – in addition to being suitably violent for a blow-off grudge match – also marked the début of Butch Armstrong, a really sound and hard-working CCW mainstay (despite pushing me off the top rope through a table on the outside; something I remind him of every time I see him.) That was my first time going through a table, and also my first Van Terminator/ Coast-to-Coast, which I used to finish off Marion, as he was buried in the debris from the match in a corner of the ring.

This rather gruesome tableaux was left as a message to future enemies (c: Shea Wolf Media)

Though it was a shame to finish up our feud, I was very pleased with it and felt we wrapped it up on a high.

Any regular readers of these yokes know I always enjoy wrestling in Aberdeen for Wrestlezone. The crowds are great and appreciative, and WZ is a promotion very much on my wavelength in terms of emphasis on storytelling and characters, rather than meaningless spots and sequences. Along with that, I’ve wrestled for the promotion regularly enough since 2009, and have always felt welcomed and at home with their crew.

In recent years, I would’ve ventured over maybe two or three times a year to the Granite City for wrestling-related adventures. From October of last year, though, I had cause to make a few more trips, partaking in a tournament to crown the first Tri-Counties Champion.

I faced Alan Sterling in Inverurie in the first round, in October. Though Alan and I had faced off many times before in tags, six-man tags and a Fatal Four Way at the previous year’s Christmas Chaos Comes Early show, this was our first singles, and it was a blast. The ten-minute time limit on the match (and all matches in the tournament) was an added challenge, but it was great working with Alan.

In February, I faced Alan’s Sterling Oil stablemate Damien (flanked initially by the excellent Richard R. Russell, who’s always fun to work with) in the Quarter Finals in Peterhead. I’d faced Damien before in 2010 (I think) in an enjoyable match, and this one surpassed it. We’d crossed paths in a fun six-man tag in Westhill a few years since then, too, and I was hoping for a singles with him again at some stage. I was pleased, so, to get the opportunity in Peterhead. The time limit played a factor once more in this one. Where I found us having to pad things out a bit with Alan to get to the various beats in the match, I found with Damien that we were really pushed for time as we approached the match’s conclusion. We cut a couple of bits out on the fly and I barely managed to hit him with my G-17 finisher before the 10 min time limit elapsed (pinning him at a legit 09:55!)

Celebrating a hard-fought victory over Damien in Peterhead

One of the more pleasing aspects of this tournament for me was getting to work with WZ’s own guys. In years gone by, I would’ve been working great outside talent like Stevie Xavier, Andy Wild, BT Gunn and Kenny Williams, so the tournament provided a chance to work with WZ’s homegrown stars. I had fun matches with Alan & Damien in the first two rounds, and my semi with Aspen Faith kept the run going. Capping off a terrific weekend (where I took a guest seminar at WZ’s Academy and visited Aberdeen FC’s home Pittodrie, as they beat Hearts), Aspen & I had a really good match in the Northern Hotel, which went the distance to a ten-minute time-limit draw. His interference in the other semi-final between Zach Dynamite and Bryan Tucker (at that time deemed the Tournament Final, since neither Aspen nor I advanced) caused a double-disqualification, and no winner announced.

Zach & Bryan faced off a month later in Westhill, in a re-run of their semi-final match, wrestling to a time-limit draw this time, themselves. They would then interfere in my rematch with Aspen causing a double-DQ and a large schmoz with lots of pushing, arguing, and pointing at the Championship belt (who, no doubt, was enjoying the attention of four handsome men fighting over it.) To settle matters, a fatal four way ladder match was announced for the Title to take place at Aberdeen Anarchy this year.

You know that old expression: you’re waiting ages for a Fatal Four Way ladder match, and then two come along at once. Well… that mightn’t be the exact expression, I guess, but it certainly was the case for me this year.

The last ladder match I worked was six years ago for SWE in Dundee and, while enjoyable to perform, was a MASSIVE headache to plan and structure. Massive. With that memory lingering in my grey matter, I suppose I was a little apprehensive in approaching my first multi-person ladder match of the year in February. It was for CCW at their over-18s venue The Kino (which, admittedly, I always found a bit of a logistical nightmare to perform in, due to the lack of space) with Lycan, Danny Butler and Pastor William Eaver.

 My apprehension was thankfully ill-founded, though, and the match was such a pleasure to both plan and perform. Everyone provided good input in the planning stages, and the performance was a superb team effort with (amazingly) all four of us escaping largely unscathed. I had frog splashed Lycan from the top rope as he was lying on a ladder on the outside, and expected one of us to get the worst of it, but both of us were fine after, aside from the usual knocks and bruises.

In addition to the ladder match, I’ve had the chance to work separate singles matches with all three of the guys this year, too. I worked Lycan the next month in a really fun match at the Kino’s last show, worked Danny at PWU in a match that was technically sound but in front of a subdued and unappreciative audience in Belfast, and had a very enjoyable clash with Pastor for the CCW Title in Cork a few months after the ladder match. (That match led to my only really notable injury of the last while, as I developed a trapped nerve in my neck and accompanying shoulder/forearm discomfort, but that’s thankfully departed in the weeks and months since then. Touch wood, that’ll be the worst of it this year.)

Battling the good Pastor at It's Always Hardcore in Cork City (c: Shea Wolf Media)

Always a blast working with Danny Butler (c: Michael Barbour)

The CCW ladder match was a great team effort, as I said, and the WZ one for the Tri-Counties Title was no different. Bryan, Zach & Aspen were terrific to work with, and the match flowed very well in front of a loud and appreciative audience of over 1,300 in the Beach Ballroom. Though everyone got a little banged-up, again, we all got out mainly unscathed in the grand scheme of things, which was great. (The visiting stars this year were all sound, too – Rikishi, Melina and Hornswoggle were all grand from my own experience. One or two of the previous year’s guests were dicks, I thought, so it was good to not have that this year.)

Also good to witness was the Ballroom débuts of Nathan North and Bradley Evans in the pre-show tag, and Jack Macgregor (reffing his first Anarchy show, alongside WZ’s other great officials Dennis Law and Mikey Innes.) A hard worker, and a good dude, Jack’s done me many solids (as they say in the States) over the last while with airport pick-ups and the like. It’s always good catching up with him when I’m over, and was great to see him get his spot on Anarchy this year.

With two exceptionally enjoyable multi-person ladder matches under my belt this year, it’s definitely made me better disposed to the idea of doing them compared to the previous one I had done years before.

In October last year, I wrestled a show for IWW in Galway, facing off with Lewis Wood (of the impossibly nice Wood Brothers. Honestly, just such a lovely pair of guys, and always a pleasure seeing them at shows.) Lewis and I were halfway through our match when some travellers (who were ejected from the venue, having not paid in) turned off the lights in the hall on the way out. Left with only a sliver of light from the corridor, we continued on for a few minutes in near-darkness until they managed to get things up and running again. (Having seen earlier in the day how long it took the lights to warm up and reach full beam, I wasn’t sure how long we’d have to buy time for, but thankfully we were bathed in light once more as I made my comeback.) Darkness aside, it was a blast working with Lewis, and later in the evening with his brother Lorcan in a tag. (Lorcan actually took a ridiculously funny bump off a running Yakuza kick I hit him with on the outside, akin to something Shawn Michaels would’ve taken in his match with Hulk Hogan. Without the accompanying disrespect, though, of course…. I think…. Hey, wait a minute….)

October marked my second trip of the year to Bathgate for SSW and (despite the Ryanair flights, which I didn’t especially enjoy) it was a good time. It was encouraging to see the progress the trainees had made since my previous seminar – two, Luke & Kourtney, had actually débuted- and my match with Brandon Adams was largely a fun one. I say largely, as I took a blow to the beak that caused me to lose a bit of the ol’ red stuff. (I bled, to put it in a less flowery way.) Brandon’s heater The Alpha Male accidentally caught me in the face with a Drive-By while the ref was distracted, and my nose was (to put it bluntly) pissing blood. Though the match was cut a little shorter to accommodate for the blood loss, we hit all the main highspots and big stuff, so it didn’t impact too much.

The red stuff just starts to flow (c: Graeme Gilchrist)

Nothing was fractured, broken or askew, thankfully, though one of my favourite pairs of tights (my royal blue and orange ‘Irn Bru’ tights) were polka-dotted with blood, and needed a good bit of scrubbing to get clean. That said, the blood added to the drama, and we made the most of it. When life gives you blood, make blood-aid, and all that. (Two ladies very kindly handed my handkerchiefs as I made my way to the back, which was a very nice gesture.)

I performed at BEST Wrestling’s début show in Beragh, Co. Tyrone in early April of last year- running my friend Bruiser over with a go-kart, as you do- and returned at their show in Omagh during a hectic week for wrestling in late August. (I went straight to Omagh after work on Wednesday, worked Thursday and Friday as normal, then had shows for CCW and IWW in Cork and Tipperary on Saturday and Sunday. To say I was fairly knackered come Monday morning would be an understatement.) 

The show in Omagh, at any rate, was good fun, with a jovial crew to work with, and hang out with backstage. I worked The Fighting Fintonian in a fun (and unexpected) Hardcore Match, which I accidentally won, haha. After ad-libbing a Stunner late in the match (and hitting a second one on request) I made a tentative cover, and surprisingly got the W through some sort of miscommunication.

In addition to my inadvertent victory, I superkicked promoter Nick Campbell (allowing him to be beaten by a woman) and partook of a spot in the eight man tag main event, which closed out the show on a spirited note.

I returned to BEST in April of this year at a show in Tempo, Co. Tyrone, named in my honour- that was quite flattering! An enjoyable bout with Tim Steed led to us dislocating the middle rope when Tim Irish whipped me into the corner at speed! I débuted a new finisher in the match to conclude proceedings, called the Knee-DT. I’d been using it on-and-off for a few years, but never as a finisher. Testing it out beforehand, though, I was happy Tim took it like a champ and it was strong enough to finish, itself, rather than transition to a ‘bigger’ move. It’s something I can use on opponents of any size and safe as houses, so it’s handy to have in the back pocket.

Wiping out Tim Steed at BEST's inaugural Bingo Ballance Wrestling in Tempo

In addition to my match with Tim, I faced frequent IWW opponent Cambo Cray later in the show, and had a tremendous match with him; definitely one of my favourites of the ones we’ve had. A little skulduggery led to a ten-man tag to cap off the show, and that was that.

Kicked off this year in an enjoyable ‘face-vs-’face match with LJ Cleary in Athlone. Crowd turnout wasn’t great, but it was a fun match.

Enjoyed a triple threat with Tucker and then-CCW All-Star Champ Conor ‘The Body’ Charisma towards the end of 2016. I’d worked Tucker before in Dublin in 2011, so it was cool working with him again, and I was really impressed with Conor, especially from an attitude standpoint. The match was designed to have him let Tucker & I battle it out, and him to periodically sneak in and try a few guerrilla-style attacks. Rather than gripe – as some might have- about not getting enough time to get his spots in during the match, he completely got the story we were going for, his role in the match and why it worked for his character, and played the part to perfection, hitting his cues and getting his part across. He’s a young guy, but it didn’t show from a maturity standpoint – very impressed, for what it’s worth.

Conor's patience paid off - battling at the Fight Before Xmas (c: Shea Wolf Media)

Going wrong more often than it’s gone right, it may be time for me to retire one of my favourite moves, unfortunately. I’ve used a backcracker out of the corner for a good few years now, but slip-offs due to sweat, mistimes and other related fuck-ups have led me to think it’s time to either put it out to pasture, or me switch up how I hit it. If you see me hit it on a show and it gets fucked up, just know that I’m dying a little on the inside.

A few weeks ago, while I was prepping this blog, I asked for questions on my Facebook page, and was overwhelmed with the response… Haha, nah, I kid. I got one question. One. You guys suck. Haha. I will, however, take the time and answer that question now, as best I can.

Training – Find yourself a decent school with reputable trainers. Conduct yourself with respect for your trainers and fellow trainees. I actually took a class a few years ago, and was giving pointers to two guys in the ring; some of the other trainees were around the ring watching and listening, and others were off taking selfies of themselves at training, so they could stick them on Facebook and Instagram. Who do you think I had more time for?

Know Your Role – If you’re lucky enough to get booked on a show, the promoter has a role in mind for you for that show (or should do, if they’re any good at booking.) Ask them what they want from you and from your match, and act accordingly. If you’re the second match on the show, a certain format is usually followed, so don’t try recreate Michaels/Taker, as the promoter more than likely doesn’t want that, and you’ll take away from the main event.

Don’t Get Hung-Up on Wins & Losses – A guy I trained with early on was always griping, bitching and moaning about having to put guys over, even though he was a villainous foreign heel. Rather than try to grasp that him being vanquished by the hometown hero was what the audience wanted (and would send them home happy) he couldn’t understand that he could be beaten by someone smaller than him. As with the above (Know Your Role) try to think beyond yourself, and think about what’s best for the show. Even in defeat, you can make yourself look good.

Online Presence – With social media platforms so prominent these days, there are more avenues than ever to get yourself out there, but how you conduct yourself on them is extremely important. As a wrestler, you’re your own brand, so if you’re posting stuff under your worker alias, do so professionally, and don’t get into silly arguments with fans online.

Stay Grounded – Success may come to you, and you may start making strides in your wrestling career, but keep your feet on the ground. Arrogance is an extremely ugly trait, and will be quickly picked up by others, especially in wrestling when people tend to go for the worst possible interpretation of any situation! No matter how good you think you are, there’ll always be someone better, so stay humble and show respect for the people around you.

All of the above is behavioural stuff, you might notice. In the grand scheme of things, learning the moves and spots, and how/when to utilise them to the best effect is actually the easy bit! Wrestling is a political minefield, especially in Ireland, so trying to conduct yourself in a way that will piss off the fewest amount of people is probably a fairly safe way to go…

Here we go! Last entry was July of last year, so I’ll run down some of the best and worst I’ve seen since then…

Best: Of last year, from July onwards, I enjoyed Don’t Breathe a lot, and thought it was one of the better thrillers I’d seen in a good while. The Accountant (from Gavin O’Connor, who directed another favourite of mine, Warrior) was a great action/thriller, I felt, which I didn’t know much about going in. I liked Arrival, which seemed to be quite a polarising film. This year, stuff that’s particularly impressed me has been the likes of Manchester by the Sea, Logan, La-La Land, Get Out, Life, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (better than the first, I thought) and War for the Planet of the Apes. I've literally just seen Dunkirk, too, and it left quite an impression too. (Christopher Nolan is one of my favourite directors, and this is definitely another good notch in his filmography.)

Worst: Regrettably, I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff since last July as well! Independence Day: Resurgence was pretty awful, as was the Ghostbusters reboot. (I enjoyed the opening with Zach Woods, and was hopeful the film would continue in that vein, but it went over a cliff soon after. Just glad I didn’t pay to see it.) The David Brent film was a huge disappointment, and just so unnecessary. I gave I Am Not a Serial Killer a shot, as I like Christopher Lloyd (star of a few childhood favourites of mine, like Camp Nowhere, Clue and Addams Family Values) but it was a very slow and quite dull film. I loved Ben Affleck’s first three directorial efforts (Argo, The Town and the criminally-underrated Gone Baby Gone) but Live By Night was an atrocious film, unfortunately, and I didn’t care for any of it. Similarly, A Cure for Wellness – which had all the hallmarks of an interesting psychological thriller from its trailer – was a bloated mess of a film that was at least half an hour too long 

Thanks for reading, guys, if you managed to make it to the end. Hoping it won't be another year before I get to one of these, but I might do a themed one (rather than a recap) if I get any ideas or suggestions. 'Til then, take it easy, and all the best.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Ballance Sheet, Blog XXVIII

Can’t believe it’s over a year since the last one o’ these…! Though I highly doubt, folks, that anyone’s been waiting with baited breath for another blog entry, apologies to anyone that does enjoy reading these, and for the lack of new content for so long.

Anyway, it’s been a year, I’ve been keeping myself largely out of mischief- not entirely, but largely, mind you- and have a few bits and pieces to scribble about, so let’s get down to it…

In July of last year, I captured the All-Star Championship in Cork-based Celtic Championship Wrestling, where I’ve been working away happily for the last while. I faced off with Karl Brien in a very enjoyable Title match in Gurranabraher – in a venue that looked from the outside like it had been shelled with mortar fire!- and we had a couple of rematches in Mallow and Midleton that were good fun, too. (Former NXT star CJ Parker appeared at the Gurranabraher show too, just as an aside, and was a very sound dude.)

Like the cat that got the cream...Just after capturing the CCW All-Star Title in Gurranabraher - c: Shea Wolf Media

Along with defences against Karl, I faced off with Swiss Pro Wrestling star Adrian Johnatans in regular CCW haunt Glen Rovers Hurling Club, and came out on top in a Fatal 4 Way with Xavier Burns, Saqib Ali and Jody Fleisch in October last year (on an over-18s show with an absolutely hellish, cramped and overheated backstage area.)

This year began with a successful title defence against Marion Armstrong, before he helped cost me the title straight after, in an impromptu match with Xavier Burns. (This would lead to a nice feud between the two of us, but more on that later…)

It was a cool run with the Title, despite getting numerous cuts and abrasions from the sharp central plate on the Championship belt (a frequently Pointy Nemesis during the reign…)

In August of last year, I went back to the beginning, as it were, and returned to the place where I started out: Irish Whip Wrestling. Between 2005 & 2009, I trained with IWW, débuted for them and joined their roster, had a number of enjoyable TV appearances for them- as part of their Zero Gravity division, on the Whiplash TV series (against future WWE stars like Neville and Tyson Kidd)- and was Head Trainer of the Training School in Baldoyle, in north Dublin. I got my start in IWW, and gained a lot of experience from regular shows all over the country.

Parting ways with the promotion in mid-2009, I ended up developing my experience further with appearances for other Irish companies like CCW, Wrestling.IE, NLW, DCW, PWU, MSW and EWP, amongst others, and getting the opportunity to work with a lot of other talent that I previously hadn’t encountered. It was an exciting time to get out and spread my wings a bit. (*insert Bingo wings joke*)

Last summer, though, a friend of mine (Bruiser) had been back working with IWW, himself, and gave me the heads-up that it was a fun place to work. Having seen for myself, I can’t disagree with him – the atmosphere’s been great thus far.

For my own part, I guess one of my biggest curiosities was working with some of Irish Whip’s current ‘Zero Gravity’ guys, having been one of the ZG originators, along with the likes of Red Vinny, Irish Dragon and Bam Katraz, back in the day. So far, it’s been a blast – I worked with current champ Cambo Cray in Warrenpoint (in my first match back for the promotion) and had a very enjoyable bout with Jeebus in Tipperary last Halloween. Along with that, I’ve had fun matches with TJ Meehan (the current Heavyweight Champ, in Letterkenny last month) and tags with ‘The Galway Grappler’ Sid Haig, Captain Rooney and Frankie Feonix (re-christened ‘Bang Bang’ Henderson, due to his bafflingly obstinate opposition to American gun control.)

At any rate, the only negative experience I’ve had thus far has been getting a nasty bit of sunburn during a recent festival show in Clonakilty, Co. Cork. I was sizzling beneath the midday sun and, by my estimations (at six minutes per pound), I would’ve been good to serve by about half past four. The itchiness was driving me mad by the following Friday, and I was still lobster-red in the neck and shoulders the next weekend when I was working for CCW. Wear sunblock, folks.

(Yes, that’s a James Bay reference – deal with it.) Anyway, in mid-November, I had my second appearance of the year for Wrestlezone (having faced off with Shawn Johnson and Kenny Williams at Aberdeen Anarchy in May) and fought for the WZ Undisputed Title in a Fatal 4 Way with champ Scotty Swift, Crusher Craib, and (the odd man out in our alliterative battle of attrition) Alan Sterling. This was the main event of the show, dubbed Christmas Chaos Comes Early, and featured an appearance from WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley (who was very sound, and a gent.)

Hands down, I’ve never had a Fatal 4 Way match come together so easily. Usually, the planning is a bit of headache, with lots of moving parts, and the need to take into account four peoples’ ideas, so everyone’s heard and everyone’s happy. In this case, though, it was a doddle. Everyone on the same page, and with the best interest of the match in mind.

I’d ordered some new gear for the show, which arrived just in the nick of time the previous day. It was a really, really close call, and I deliberately had it sent to my workplace, so I wouldn’t miss delivery during the week. With the ability to track the package online, I’d been hounding the people in the post room (like the “where’s my spy camera?” bit in The Simpsons) to let me know when it got there! Literally just as I was about to finish up for the day, I checked the status online, and apparently it had been delivered. Anticipating a cruel ‘hope spot’, I walked out to reception to check, and they’d just signed for it. Success! Another few minutes and I never would’ve appeared on the show in what has been dubbed my ‘Irn Bru’ gear!

Anyway, close calls aside, the match was a lot of fun and, surreally, Mick Foley was ringside for it. For a personal highlight, I was absolutely delighted to land a tricky spot with Crusher Craib; I ducked his big boot, springboarded to the top rope and aimed a crossbody in his direction, only for him to counter into a Black Hole Slam. We’d previously hit this on the One Wild Night show in 2011, but to hit it again in front of around 700 people was a huge thrill, and I was overjoyed that we nailed the timing once more.

What was I thinking? c: Dod Morrison

Rather unluckily, however, I picked up a bit of an injury from the match. A 450 splash to the outside on a standing Crusher Craib was the culprit, as I landed heavily on my left heel, causing a minor fracture and a few weeks of discomfort while walking/running. Thankfully, though, that was designed to be my last involvement in the match and, again surreally, Mick Foley walked me to the back, as the Aberdonian faithful gave me a kind round of applause. (Very sound – thanks, guys.)

Though nursing the aforementioned heel unpleasantness, I made the journey to Beragh, in Co. Tyrone (Northern Ireland) the following weekend, and delivered a seminar/wrestling-themed symposium for new start-up BEST Wrestling. Despite the extremely cold conditions – it hit 0 degrees, as I was leaving- it was an enjoyable few hours, even if I couldn’t adequately demonstrate a stomp due to the heel fracture. I performed at the début show for BEST in April, facing old friend/foe Bruiser for the first time in a good while, in a fun and enjoyable bout. I marked the occasion by running him over with a child’s go-kart. As you do.

Nailing Bruiser with a frog splash during our bout in BEST Wrestling - c: Christopher Eccles

I returned to the Scottish School of Wrestling (SSW) at the end of January, and had a really good time. It had been a good five or six years since my last show for them and, though the line-up/roster had been shaken up a bit, the atmosphere was just as I remembered: very welcoming and relaxed.

I took a very enjoyable seminar with sixteen participants during the afternoon, then performed on the evening show, teaming with Kaiden King against Butler and Kid Fite (who I hadn’t seen in years, and got a chance to catch up with. Same with Liam Thomson – great seeing him as well.) A friend of mine from secondary school named Mark- who’d moved to Scotland in the last few years- was in attendance, and it was great getting a chance to catch up with him too, after the show.

Though he might be one of SSW’s most hated heels, Aaron Jeremi is an outstanding host, and took very good care of me while I was over, which is always appreciated. He’d been with SSW the last time I was over, too, so (to use a most over-used phrase in this passage) it was great to catch up with him, as well! It was a great weekend of catching up, a bit of the ol’ rasslin’, and a post-show Domino’s pizza pie.

Probably the most surprising match I’ve had this year – pleasantly so—took place for CCW in April. It was back to Glen Rovers, and I opened the show in a tremendously fun eight-man tag. Truth be told, I was somewhat concerned about how the match would turn out, as one or two of the lads weren’t the most seasoned in-ring, but every single person involved in the match (Roughshod & the Sidekicks on my side, and Xavier Burns, Lewis & Lorcan Wood and Billy Lynch on the other) made a terrific contribution, and I was really happy with how it all went. It was a great team effort, and a very, very enjoyable match to be a part of.

Think all eight of us are in there somewhere! c: Shea Wolf Media

Three years ago, at Wrestlezone’s first Aberdeen Anarchy show, I had the great pleasure of opening the main show in a match with Stevie Xavier; a match I enjoyed a lot, and am very proud of. It was received very well on the night, and has since been called one of the greatest matches in WZ history, which is a massive honour, and very humbling. Early last month, we were tasked with doing it again at Aberdeen Anarchy 4.

It’s probably the most pressure I’ve felt in a while- due to the expectations heading into it, and the hype of the rematch- but I’m happy with how it turned out, and working with Stevie was a pleasure once again, the chemistry from our first bout still there, I felt. It was a very satisfying follow-up to our 2013 match, and I think we mixed things up sufficiently, so it wasn’t just a retread of what we’d done before.

Springboard enziguri to Stevie Xavier in our return bout at Aberdeen Anarchy 4 - c: Brianbat Photography

The whole show and weekend was a blast- always is at WZ- with the exception of Crusher Craib getting injured in the main event in a very unfortunate accident. Smashing guy, and a real gent, so it was extremely unfortunate to have his great match with Scotty Swift end in such a manner.

Post-show, I had a nice catch-up with Big Damo O’Connor at the hotel bar, and we were joined by visiting ex-WWE stars like Tatanka, The Hurricane, Carlito and Bull Dempsey. A very nice lunch the following day with Brian and Jack from WZ capped off a great weekend.

For a number of months, I’ve had a compelling feud with Marion Armstrong to sink my proverbial teeth into, in CCW. With a background in acting, and a good head on his shoulders, Marion shares my passion for realism and logic, and working with him over the last while has been extremely creatively satisfying. He’s a great foil for my character, and his promo work has been tremendous. Very clever and with absolute conviction, which I love in a promo.

Faking a retirement at the top of the May show in Glen Rovers, he’d surprisingly jump me during a match with Xavier Burns and OMEGA for the All-Star Title, and ‘break my ribs’, setting the stage for a nice unsanctioned Street Fight between us last month, where we’d take our issues to the next level.

I don’t get to do weapons or gimmick matches too often, so it was something I was looking forward to, and a chance to develop and show off a different part of my character. In addition, Marion & I were getting the main event spot, so it was a green light to really go all-out and have as good a match as we could. On the night, though, it turned out to be one of the most legitimately frustrating and enraging experiences I’ve had in quite some time.

Working with Marion was a pleasure, as ever, but circumstances beyond our control meant that we couldn’t have the match we hoped to have. Early into the bout, we brawled to the back of the hall in Finbarr’s GAA Club, where I had to actually halt Irish whipping Marion into a wall, as some kids were running around unsupervised and getting in the way.

A crash landing for both me and Marion Armstrong during our Unsanctioned Street Fight - c: Shea Wolf Media

When we made our way back to the ring, about two minutes passed (we were about five or six minutes into a twenty minute match) before the ref discreetly called me to wrap it up. Perplexed, we continued for another little bit, before we got another call that the promoter wanted us to ‘take it home’. (Apparently, the venue security had fucked off early, and an unruly element of the crowd were messing and wrestling down the back of the hall, posing an insurance risk if any were to get injured on the premises. Fearing such a claim, the call was made to finish up the show ASAP.)

Surprisingly not-too-bad executing a leg lariat in jeans! c: Shea Wolf Media

Hastily cobbling together a finish, and jettisoning pretty much all of our highspots, we wrapped up in underwhelming fashion around seven or eight minutes in. I was absolutely livid and, frankly, blew a bit of a gasket backstage. No one got shouted at, so it wasn’t some big Christian Bale rant, but I was very, very frustrated that we didn’t get to have the bout we envisioned, and short-changed the fans that had been following the story.

Hopefully, somewhere down the line, we’ll get another crack at it, and under better circumstances. For the moment, though, it remains a frustrating missed opportunity and one of the rare moments where I’ve really lost my temper in wrestling. Being frank, though, I don’t regret it. I love what I do and take pride in what I do, and stand by the frustration I felt on the night.    


Anyone who's read any o' these before knows, I likes my films, haha. So, with that in mind, here's a quick take on some of the releases this year that I've managed to head along to...

The Hateful Eight. Despite liking some of Tarantino’s oeuvre, I honestly didn’t enjoy this. It took ages to get going, was about twice as long as it should’ve been, and I just found it tedious and self-indulgent in parts. Actually considered walking out once or twice as I didn’t give a shit what happened. A definite bad sign.

The Revenant. Not a fun watch by any means, but wonderfully shot (particularly the opening scene) and a good performance from Di Caprio.

The Big Short. Loved this. Great script, wickedly humorous, and really well-acted.

Spotlight. Very solid drama. Kinda surprised it won the Best Picture Oscar, but not due to a lack of quality, by any means.

Deadpool. Very enjoyable, and a great performance from Ryan Reynolds as usual. Even TJ Miller (who I found insufferable in Transformers: Age of Extinction) was likeable enough in this.

The Finest Hours. Despite a good cast, this was a bit on the dull side. It’s the Eric Bana effect! Seriously – I’ve still to see a good film with him in it. Maybe he’s just cursed.

Hail Caesar! Fargo is one of my absolute all-time favourite films, but the Coens can be a bit hit and miss and, unfortunately, Hail Caesar was a miss for me. Criminally, I just didn’t find it funny. It was too episodic, and nothing really came together. Channing Tatum’s song-and-dance number about halfway through the film was superb, but nothing matched that.

London Has Fallen. I expected a big, dumb action film, and that’s exactly what I got. No complaints.

The Witch. Interesting story, but I wasn’t in the humour for ye olde Englishe, and it kinda took away from the experience a bit for me. Good performances and visually impressive notwithstanding.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I don’t like Zack Snyder’s films, to be completely truthful. Whatever about visual effects, his stories are often incoherent, and characters unlikeable and difficult to invest in. I couldn’t get into Watchmen and hated Man of Steel passionately, so my expectations were at rock-bottom for this. My main curiosity was how Ben Affleck would do as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and he was grand. That being said, I just didn’t care for the film, and Jesse Eisenberg (who I’ve enjoyed in the likes of The Social Network and Adventureland, amongst others) seemed to be channelling a mixture of psycho Mark Zuckerberg and Jim Carrey’s Riddler in his portrayal of Lex Luthor. It was no better or worse than I expected, but left no lasting impression, and I’ve no real interest in a Justice League movie. A film with Affleck as Batman, directed by the man himself? That would interest me a bit more.

10 Cloverfield Lane. Terrifically tense thriller. Great performances from the small cast. John Gallagher, Jr. was in another excellent Netflix-exclusive thriller called Hush that’s really well worth a watch.

Sing Street. Another enjoyable music-based offering from director John Carney, following the slightly meandering Once, and the likeable Begin Again. Sing Street was good fun, nicely humorous, and with a great soundtrack.

Midnight Special. Biggest disappointment of the year for me. Acting was solid, visuals were great, but the story was massively underdeveloped. There’s “broad strokes” and there’s “revealing fuck-all to your audience”. This was the latter. Shame, since I enjoyed Jeff Nicholl’s previous film, Mud, which helped revitalise Matthew McConnaughey’s career.

Eye in the Sky. Outstanding thriller. Great performances (Helen Mirren great as always, the best thing I’ve seen Aaron Paul in since Breaking Bad, and a terrific final performance from Alan Rickman) and extremely suspenseful. Definitely one of my favourites from this year.

Captain America: Civil War. Currently the best film I’ve seen this year and- in my opinion- the best Marvel film to-date. Absolutely gripping from start to finish, and really well-paced.

Green Room. This was a little bit over-hyped for me, so I found it kinda disappointing. Didn’t help that the sound was quite poor where I saw it, and a lot of the dialogue was indecipherable. That being said, it was a refreshingly brutal thriller, and entertaining to see Patrick Stewart in a different role. Very sadly, since the release of the film, its star (and one of my legit favourite actors) Anton Yelchin was tragically killed outside his home. A real shame – such a great talent, and an always likeable screen presence. Though he’ll possibly be best known for his Star Trek role, I really enjoyed his work in The Beaver, Charlie Bartlett, 5 to 7 and Fright Night, amongst others. Dreadful year for deaths so far.

Money Monster. I really liked Jodie Foster’s last directorial effort, The Beaver (as mentioned previously), so was definitely keen to see what she’d come up with next. Along with that, George Clooney’s led two of my favourite films (The Descendants and Up in the Air) and Jack O’Connell is a compelling actor, so I was curious to see how it would all go down. Ultimately, while enjoyable, I felt there was just a little something missing from making it a great thriller. Surprisingly, the most affecting and interesting scene came from Emily Meade (O’Connell’s on-screen girlfriend, and star of HBO’s The Leftovers, one of my favourite shows of the last few years) about halfway through the film – along with changing one’s perspective on O’Connell’s character, it was fantastically acted and a powerful point in the plot.

The Conjuring 2. I’ve always had a soft spot for the horror genre, and love seeing a horror film done well. The Conjuring was a thoroughly enjoyable one, bolstered by a great cast, and superb direction. Could the sequel match it? Unfortunately not, but it was still an enjoyable and engaging film in its own right, with plenty of shocks and unsettling moments up its sleeve. The pairing of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga is at the heart of the series (if you can call two films a series) and adds a lot to proceedings.

Some of the series that have kept me entertained over the last while have included Happy Valley (an exquisitely-produced, gritty British crime series), The Leftovers, Game of Thrones (of course – great season six), Penny Dreadful, House of Cards (loved season four), Brooklyn Nine Nine, and even the MTV/Netflix Scream series, which I warmed a bit more to on a second viewing.

This is where I leave you, guys. If you’ve gotten to this point, thanks for reading, and hopefully won’t be another year before I update this! In the meantime, keep an eye on my Facebook page – I’d tend to update it a little more often than this. Not saying much, in fairness, but it’s something at least! Be well.


Friday, 5 June 2015

The Ballance Sheet, Blog XXVII

June 5th marks ten years that I've been involved in "dis bizness", to use the oft-quoted Triple H line. In light of this momentous occasion...., we're havin' ribs. Nah, not quite. But I definitely do fancy a quick trip down memory lane, and sharing a small smattering of the more memorable moments, occasions, incidents and so on, from the decade I've been in the simulated fightin' business. So, here we go...

Like any other wrestler out there, I've had my fair share of botches - be it a blown spot, a flubbed line, or just something that hasn't gone quite right. My personal favourite, though- simply due to just how much of a wally I ended up looking like- was for a German promotion called Saarland Wrestling Organisation (SWO) from 2009.

I'd travelled over from Dublin, and was due to work the evening show against a worker called Bernd Foehr. (Bernd, incidentally, was a lovely guy, and we had two very enjoyable matches, in both SWO and next year for Alpha Pro Wrestling.) I also had an impromptu match on the matinée show, earlier in the day, against an American worker called CorVus; also a really sound chap. We didn't have a whole lot of time to plan, so most of the match (if I recall correctly) had to be called on the fly, which was fine. One miscommunication, however, led to an unfortunate (but amusing) botch, on my behalf. I'd called to CorVus- through wrestling 'shorthand', as it were- that I was going to whip him to the far corner, hit him with a clothesline, and that he was to stagger out behind me, so I could catch him with a springboard crossbody in the middle of the ring. I whipped him, he took the buckle, I hit him with a clothesline, then took off, sprung off the top rope on the other side of the ring.... and crashed to the mat below. I groaned, rolled over, and saw CorVus still standing in the far corner, selling the clothesline! I can only imagine how it looked to those in attendance, but from my own point of view, I thought it was pretty fucking funny! Aside from that miscommunication, I actually liked that match with CorVus quite a bit.

Here, in a vertical position, for SWO's show in Kaiserslautern, in Germany.

For a guy that springboards a good bit, I've been quite lucky not to fall on my ass too often, or botch particularly badly.  That SWO botch, though, stands up as one of my favourites for its sheer ridiculousness.

Crowd interaction is the lifeblood of any match and, as I'm sure any wrestler will tell you, trying to work a match in front of a dull, listless crowd is probably one of the most soul-destroying things you can experience. (Certainly, I would say that, at least!) I remember working a pretty damn good outdoor match with Seán Maxer in Portadown, a few years ago, where we were just stared at by a load of slack-jawed, dead-eyed proles. Definitely irked me, for the effort we put in.

Sometimes, though, different factors can kill a crowd, and make them less responsive: a show running long, a match with too much drama to be topped by any subsequent bout (like Orton/Triple H having to follow 'Taker/Michaels from WM25) or something else entirely. Two memorable such moments stand out to me.

The first was from May of 2007. I was defending the IWW Zero Gravity Title in a Fatal Fourway for English promotion PTW against Ross Jordan (RJ Singh), Seb Drea and Matt Naylor. The match itself, I have to say, was a lot of fun - three great talents to work with. We had to follow something utterly surreal, though.

PTW had been in a local feud with another promotion (ACW, if memory serves) over control of the Luton area. Midway through the show, one of ACW's guys- a fella called Bull Harley (worker name, I assume)- stormed into the venue, roaring for PTW promoter Petey Staniforth to show himself, as he'd apparently slandered him on the UKFF, calling him a paedophile, amongst other things. A pull-apart quarrel ensued, Harley left (or was ejected - I can't remember) and Staniforth elected to rant, and share the incident, with a bemused, befuddled and bewildered audience, mere minutes before Seb, Ross, Matt and I were due to go out and work the main event! It was tough work getting the crowd back, I have to say, but we got there.

The conclusion of the IWW ZG Fourway against Seb Drea, Matt Naylor and Ross Jordan (pictured) for PTW. A fun match, in spite of the circumstances

The second moment was definitely not light-hearted in nature. (Not that the first was, either, but it was more amusing to this Irish bystander. Nevertheless...) At a 1PW show at the Granby in 2008, I was working Lionheart in the second half of the show, following a tag match between Hubba Bubba Lucha (Bubblegum & El Ligero) and Scottish team Fight Club. Bubblegum, very unfortunately, had injured his neck during the match, and had to be legitimately stretchered out of the place, and taken to hospital. The crowd, understandably, were concerned for him, as was everybody backstage, and a subdued hush fell over the place. Lionheart and I were then tasked with the rather Herculean challenge of trying to get them back into the entertainment. Again, a tough job, but it was a solid match, and the crowd actually did their part, and made the effort to get behind us and help out, which was much appreciated.

I've had the pleasure of working in a good variety of places over the years, but I would definitely have a few venues that I hold in my memory a little more dearly than others. One would be the Le Chéile (Irish for 'together') Community Centre in Donnycarney, in Dublin. Along with being a stone's throw from where I lived at the time, and live now, it was an awesome place to wrestle, and was host to a number of lively and exciting IWW shows that I was a part of. I defended the ZG Title there in a fun Donnybrook Match with Red Vinny, Bubblegum and El Ligero in early 2007, had a pretty damn good Triple Threat for the belt with Vinny and LA Warren later that year, and battled Vic Viper, Bam Katraz, Vinny and Scotland's Liam Thomson in 2008 in a thrilling 5 Way match. Irish Whip pretty much always drew good numbers in Donnycarney, and it was a blast to get to perform in front of loud, energetic and appreciative crowds.

Nailing frequent opponent (and occasional partner) Red Vinny with a bulldog in Donnycarney- March 2007. (Thanks to Mark Lyons for this shot)

Balbriggan Community Centre is also an old favourite of mine. Along with the Zero Gravity Tournament victory there in January 2007- an amazing night- I had extremely pleasing battles with the likes of Bam Katraz, Red Vinny, Brother Skelly, Kid Fite, JP Monroe, Irish Dragon and Andy Phoenix, amongst others. The Balbriggan fans were terrific, and I always enjoyed working there. Though there were minor misfortunes- like dropping my wage from the ZG show (and the three matches I'd worked) from my bag in a rush to get the last train home, and wrestler/ref Rick O'Shea being chased through the town by hooligans- the bad was definitely outweighed by the good, and Balbriggan holds many dear memories from my ten years doing this.

Prepping Kev Dunphy for my G-17 finisher in Balbriggan- Jan 2007. (Thanks for Wesley Donohoe for this pic)

Any time you get to wrestle in front of huge audiences is fantastic. Working at the Doncaster Dome for 1PW in 2008 was cool to have done- along with a brace of shows for PBW at the Magnum Centre in Irvine (another great venue)- but the three shows for WrestleZone in Aberdeen's Beach Ballroom have been amongst my favourites. Great venue, great crowds, and a really wonderful group of people to work with. I had one of the best matches of my career there, with Stevie Xavier in 2013, and had a ball working with Andy Wild, Shawn Johnson and Kenny Williams in 2014 & 2015 in front of upwards of 1,300 people. Incredible.

Hitting the G-17 on Stevie Xavier at WZ's first Aberdeen Anarchy show- June 2013. (Thanks to Baba for this photo)

I wouldn't class these at all as places I haven't enjoyed wrestling, but I would say that the shows I've worked for Wrestling.IE over the last few years have been challenging. Backstage, the theatre shows have been a dream to be at: loads of space to wander around and kick back, and very, very comfortable. Along with that, they photograph well, and can fit a good-sized crowd. Unfortunately, though, one of the problems with performing in a theatre is you're not performing 'in the round', as it were, and to four sides of the audience. If the crowd is particularly far away (as they were in Downpatrick) it's difficult to get them involved and responsive. Thus, my preference is to work with the crowd on all four sides- makes it a little more difficult to get away with sly calls, but it's worth it for having the audience all around you, and closer to the action.

Crowd positioning aside, anywhere that's tight on space backstage generally grinds my gears big style. I like to have a bit of room to warm up, stretch out, and go through the match with the guy(s) I'm working with, or just on my own. Places where that's been especially difficult were the likes of the Granby in Doncaster (pretty much no room behind the curtain), a venue in Dunston (where we had to change in a small garden out the back of a pub) and another in Gateshead (where all the workers were piled on top of each other in a small room out the back, and there was barely enough room to swing a cat - made the whole exercise of smuggling a striped tomcat in my carry-on luggage disappointingly redundant.)      

Yep, there have been a fair few o' these, alright. Like a shellshocked 'Nam veteran, the frequent flashbacks of ass crack from my training days still haunt my waking hours! Seriously, though, the sight became so regular a feature of training that I grew completely desensitised to it. Another trainee once commented that the longer training went on, the less appalled I became, and my reaction became more of a grudging acceptance, mixed with disappointment. Well observed.

Worse, though, than the ol' plumber's crack was one trainee who actually shat himself after taking a bodyslam from yours truly. His choice to wear grey sweatpants that day was ill-advised, to put it mildly.

Most of the guys I've been in the ring with, I have to say, have had pretty good personal hygiene. One chap I worked with about five years ago, though, absolutely stank to high heaven, and it was a rather unpleasant experience sharing the ring with him, as harsh as that sounds. His musk would linger in a room long after he'd departed, and his excessive body hair didn't help matters. Stuff like shaving your armpits is something I've always believed in, from the day I started; along with it being more aesthetically pleasing for an audience, it shows a bit of consideration for the guy(s) you're working with, so that they're not getting a mush full of your 'pit hair if you're cinching in a headlock on them! At any rate, my opponent, on this occasion, didn't share my belief, and I wasn't the better for it, I can assure you.  

Most of my heart-stopping moments came from training, and from seeing people either hurt themselves or nearly hurt themselves. The top rope snapped once when a trainee was running them, and he went flying to the floor below. To say my heart was in my mouth would be an understatement! Thankfully, he was fine. On another occasion, trainee Keith Hagan (who I had a number of very enjoyable matches with in 2008) got concussed from a double-flapjack in training. He'd been launched so far that he missed the crashmat, and hit a part of the ring where the padding had slipped away from. (When head hits wood, wood always wins.) I was kinda bricking it that his mother was gonna give me the third degree when she turned up to collect him, but she was very sound and understanding. As Keith later told me, she was more surprised that my last name was actually Ballance!

 Worse, though, was an accident that befell a nice young lad called Jason, who'd travelled to training from Laois ("Leash") on a number of occasions. Unbeknownst to all of us- and he, himself, I'd say- Jason had a blood clot in his brain, and it burst during training while he was straining to apply a single-leg Boston crab on another trainee. He suffered a brain haemorrhage, an ambulance (and his dad) had to be called, and he was in a coma for a few days. A few of the guys who were training there that night were quite shook-up by the experience; as was I, I have to say. I took the role of trainer seriously, and it never sat easy when someone got hurt on my watch. Thankfully, though, Jason recovered fully, and I see him every so often when passing through Laois, on the way to CCW shows.

Doug Basham was a class act, and it was great to have him around in 2008 & 2009. Still gutted I didn't get to work him. Seemed to be a complete waste to have him working Mandrake over and over for about twelve shows. Not a knock on Mandrake at all, but it would've been good to mix it up, and give everyone the benefit of Doug's experience. Tracey Smothers was always cool to have around, and seemed to enjoy himself, and Balls Mahoney was nice, too, when he was sober! (A particularly vivid memory stands out from 2008 where we were dropping Balls back to his hotel in Dublin- from a show in Newry- and he was still in his gear, kneepads and all, and bleeding from the forehead. Made quite the impression on the Travelodge receptionist.) 'Hacksaw' Jim Duggan was a very nice man, and it was good to meet him in 2013, and Bob Holly struck me as another class act, from meeting him a few weeks ago at WZ.

Vito (formerly of WCW and WWE) behaved like a complete prima donna in a promotion where he was a guest. Raven, likewise, was a whingebag, complaining that there were non-workers (refs, IWW trainees and staff) on a coach bus down to Cork, from Dublin. Not cool, lads.

One or two, to be honest. Regretted never getting the chance to avenge a train-wreck of a match I had with Kid Kash in 2007. I was capable of better, but it was what it was, and the dynamic of the match was more adversarial than collaborative, so it just wasn't good at all. Kash was with the promotion for the rest of a tour, but we didn't cross paths again. For my own part, I wanted to prove - to myself, not to him- that I could have a good match with the guy.

I also regret never having gotten a WWE tryout. I had a TNA one in 2011, but I knew it was just a cynical, money-making exercise for them, the whole GutCheck thing. Against my better judgment, I signed up, paid the application fee, and gave it a shot, under the heading of "nothing ventured, nothing gained." Being completely straight-up, if you'll pardon the immodesty, I was better than most of the guys there, but I knew TNA had their favourites from the off, so there was never a chance. Part of me was pissed off that I didn't get a look in, but another part of me knew it was inevitable. Regardless, I was happy with how I did, and it was an experience, for better or worse.

Lining out at the TNA GutCheck in London- January 2011

Not getting a chance to try out for WWE, though, when other- excuse the bitterness- much, much less deserving workers have done does irk me. I'm genuinely a realist - I know my strengths, and I damn sure know my flaws better than anyone else; saying that, though, I don't think the idea of me trying out or even working for WWE/NXT is that crazy or ridiculous. Certainly, during my 20s, I dare say that I ticked a good number of the boxes. It's a moot point, though, at this stage. I just regret never having gotten the chance to show what I can do, and give it my best shot; not for a lack of trying!

More than anything else, the amount of good-hearted people I've met through wrestling has helped make it all worthwhile. The crew we had in Irish Whip back in the 2006-2008 period was terrific, and it was a fun time to be a part of. Getting to run the Training School was a genuinely gratifying experience, in spite of the frequent struggle to meet the exorbitant rent. The School's closure in 2008, following a particularly lean period, was gutting, but I'm forever grateful for- and indebted to- the lads that came down every week, rain or shine: Colin, Keith, Hynesie and Seán were a pleasure to train with, and helped ease the burden of the falling attendance. I was pleased that they got their chance to shine on the few Gym Wars shows in 2008, before the place closed. The closure did lead to one thing, though, that still stands as one of the kindest things anyone's ever done for me: on the last day of training, the trainees presented me with a framed commemoration, with comments and dedications they'd written. Surprising, but touching, and I still have it, to this day.

My commemorative frame from the trainees of the IWW School. Awesome.

The last day of training, in August 2008

Without getting overly sentimental, or downright soppy, I'd be seriously remiss if I didn't offer a few thanks:

A thanks to the vast majority of people I've been in the ring with who have kept me safe, and helped me do what I do. You can't have a good match on your own, and I've been extremely privileged to have shared the ring with such great talent over the last ten years.

Thanks to the promoters who have given me a shot to work on your shows. An especially hearty thanks to the select few who conduct themselves professionally, and have treated me soundly and with respect.

To anyone who has supported me over the last ten years - thank you. Truly. To know there are people out there who value your work, and what you do, is an indescribable feeling. (Well, maybe it's not that indescribable: "awesome" is a fitting description.) I truly appreciate that.

And I'm not done yet.

(Credit: John Morrissey)

Sunday, 29 March 2015

I Heartily Endorse #2: Dent Repair Express

I enjoy getting good service, and when I get it, I like to spread the word.

Earlier this year, while I was over visiting my parents one evening, a neighbour across the road accidentally backed into my car. There was (very luckily) no paint damage, but the impact left two minor dents around the front driver-side wheel arch. So far, so grrr....

The steam was taken out of the situation by the fact that the guy who did it - Chris, a fella about my age- came in straight away, owned up to the mistake, and offered to put right any damage that was caused. I love my car, look after it as best I can, and rely on it a lot. I always envisioned myself losing the rag with someone who caused damage to it! The fact that Chris had the integrity to acknowledge the damage, and assist with sorting it, completely changed the complexion of the incident. True to his word, he fixed me up for the cost of the repair, and was a gent to deal with. Considering the car could've been hit by someone who just caused the damage and fled, twirling their moustache fiendishly, I was very lucky. Very lucky indeed.

Prior to this piece of business, I would've had no cause to know what PDR stood for - it's paintless dent removal, by the way... The day after the collision, I started searching around for someone who could provide a PDR service in Dublin, and return the wheel arch to its prior state. I e-mailed/texted about six places; a lot ignored my query, or didn't bother getting back to me. The one who did got my business, and did a superb job, and they were Dent Repair Express.

They basically came to me- to where I park near work- took about 30 to 40 minutes, and had the arch looking absolutely brand-new once they were done. Sound lads, as well, to deal with, and a reasonable price of €80 to fix me up. Absolutely no complaints, and a great service provided, and for that reason I heartily endorse Dent Repair Express.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

I Heartily Endorse #1: Jagten (The Hunt)

Originally, I'd intended this blog to deal primarily with my wrestling exploits, but I'm gonna go ahead and expand the parameters just a little bit, and include a feature on, simply, stuff I like! Anything, really - films, TV shows, restaurants, day-to-day stuff. I was toying with a few names, but finally settled on 'I Heartily Endorse...', after the Krusty the Klown line in The Simpsons ("I heartily endorse this event or product.") So, to kick off my first 'I Heartily Endorse...', is a cracking Danish drama called Jagten (or 'The Hunt'.)

'The Hunt' stars Mads Mikkelsen, who had impressed playing the villainous characters Le Chiffre (from Casino Royale) and, more notably, Hannibal Lecter in the TV series Hannibal. Mikkelsen really shows his range here, playing sympathetic protagonist Lucas, a man accused of an appalling crime.

The plot concerns Mikkelsen's character, Lucas - a divorced father of a teenaged son- who is now assisting in a local kindergarten, after the secondary school he was teaching at closed down. Though he has friends and a budding relationship with another carer in the kindergarten, Lucas leads a fairly lonely existence. He is a popular figure in the kindergarten, and has a genial, playful rapport with the kids there, in particular with Klara, the young daughter of his best friend, Theo. When he upsets Klara one day, however, she makes an accusation of sexual abuse against him to the kindergarten owner, and events spiral out of control, making Lucas a hated, vilified pariah in his local community.

To say any more would be to do a great disservice to this film. For me, it was one of the better films I've seen in quite some time, and an excellent portrayal of a witch-hunt, and the damage that an accusation of this nature can do to a person's character, and to their life in general.

The performances across the board were superb, not only from the adults Mikkelsen and Thomas Bo Larsen (playing Theo), but also Lasse Fogelstrøm (playing Marcus, Lucas' teenage son) and a remarkable showing from Annika Wedderkopp as Klara, Lucas' accuser, who sets everything in motion.

It's well-written, nicely paced, and brilliantly performed, and does leave a lasting impression. Definitely not comfortable viewing, but that shouldn't be an issue when a film actually has something to say; The Hunt definitely does, and I heartily endorse it.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Ballance Sheet, Blog XXVI

My last blog opened with a show at a wedding and- weirdly- so does this one! In a 'Previously on the Bingo Ballance Show' kinda vibe, when I last left you guys, I'd wrapped up a Wrestling.IE festival show in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim, over the June bank holiday weekend. That wouldn't be my only venture into the squared circle that month, though...

Sandwiched in between the post-Christmas/pre-New Year period at the end of last year, I'd wrestled  a few matches at a wedding in Galway, at the Radisson Blu Hotel. Though it was grand, it wasn't the most enjoyable. In general, wrestling for a non-wrestling audience can be a mixed bag, and can be downright depressing at times, to be honest. Some of the festival shows I've done for Wrestling.IE have been a lot of fun, others have been like pulling teeth. One, in particular, in Portadown, was horrendous. I had two terrific guys to work with, in Seán Maxer and Dunkan Disorderly, but the crowd were the absolute shits, and it soured the experience, however much I enjoyed the matches we had.

Though I was glad to be a part of the entertainment for the wedding reception in Galway, I wasn't especially keen to repeat the experience, truth be told; I wouldn't have, had it not been for an MSW trainee that I had (and have) a lot of time for: Stuart 'Stuie' Williamson. Stuie had been there, if memory serves, for all the guest classes I'd done in Main Stage last year, and I found him to be humble, very hard-working, and just a bloody nice guy, in general. Had it not been his wedding, I would've turned down the invite to wrestle at the reception.

At any rate, the trip- made with Joe Cabray, who was good company- was a lot shorter than the previous wedding show, and it took less than an hour to reach the hotel in Bray, Co. Wicklow. The ring was set up in a car park abutting the back of the hotel; ordinarily, it wouldn't have been ideal, but the weather was rather nice, so it was fine. We had a hotel room to get prepared in, too, which helped, though it was a little cramped, and we were figuratively on top of each other!

I had a singles match to open the proceedings, with Bam Katraz. He & I have worked each other loads over the years, so it was a piece of cake, and an easy night's work. The crowd were alright; the other wrestlers tried to help make some noise, while the non-wrestling audience members looked on bemused. It was what it was. The match was grand, and I was happy to be a part of Stuie and Samantha's big day, but I'm officially retired as a wedding wrestler - heh heh.

Towards the end of June, after the wedding show, I tore my groin during a football game (a weekly kickabout), which was unpleasant, to say the least. I was chasing the ball, then had to suddenly and sharply change direction, and that did the damage. Rather than the inner thigh being affected, it was the area just below my belly button, so my upper groin/lower core had been put through the proverbial ringer. Walking was uncomforable, I couldn't run (one of my other favourite pastimes) and, for the first time since I started wrestling in 2005, I was out injured. (Ironically, not caused by wrestling.)

Over the next three months, it was incredibly frustrating to have to turn down bookings, and to see results and pictures from those shows going up on Facebook. I let that motivate me, though, and had the help of an awesome physio (Brian Crinnion of The Physio Company) to get me back to where I wanted to be. By the middle of September, I was back running again, and playing football regularly, and felt like I was ready to get back in the ring. I was hoping to get ring time to test out the injury, and see what I could(n't) do, but trying to organise training partners, and a session, proved too headache-inducing, and more hassle than it was worth, so it ultimately fell by the wayside. My first foray back into the squared circle would be on a show at the end of September, for Wrestling.IE.

My first match back took place in Ballymena, towards the tail-end of September. The trip there was a mixed bag. Danny Butler and 'The Fabulous' Nicky were enjoyable to travel with, but (due to a number of issues) we arrived at the venue a mere thirty minutes before the show was due to start, and I was in the opener! Definitely far from ideal. That said, I managed to get my ass in gear (figuratively and literally) fairly quickly, and put a match together with Joe Coffey in about 5-10 minutes. The circumstances of our late arrival, and the short window to get ready, left me fairly stressed, but planning with Joe was an absolute dream. Super nice guy, and exceptionally easy to plan and work with, especially given we'd never worked together before.

Wearing down Joe Coffey with a rear chinlock, during our match in Ballymena. Thanks to John Morrissey for this shot

Our match was grand, though I felt a few steps off my usual performance- understandable, I guess, due to the three months out. (I was a heel for this, incidentally, which was a bit of a surprise, but an interesting subversion of the obvious size differential between us. Made a change to unleash- as show photographer John Morrissey likes to call him/me- 'Jerko Ballance'!)

That singles match wasn't the full extent of my involvement, though, as we had an 8-man tag to close the show: me, Nicky, Danny & Executioner against Dunkan Disorderly, Jake Mason, Dave Finlay Jr and Joe. Prior to the match taking place, though, there was an unusual turn of events. The rest of the heels and I were on the stage, shying away from taking part in any more action for the evening (as you do), when an elderly woman came out of the audience, slapped Danny across the face and swore at him! I wish I could say that he reacted immediately, grabbed the sassy septuagenarian and piledrove her through the stage, but that wasn't the case, unfortunately. He was a little shocked and bemused, as anyone would be, and the lady- for lack of a better term- was led back to her seat by the incompetent security detail. It was honestly like something out of the World of Sport era! You sorta assume that most people know the story these days, and appreciate that it's entertainment, but I guess that's not a safe assumption! The match proceeded as normal, and the lady was championed as some sort of 'Hero of the People' (and not as the incorrigible thug that she proved herself to be. Dreadful.)

The first show was out of the way, anyway,and I (very luckily) hadn't tweaked the injury especially; quite fortunate, since I hadn't time to properly warm up, due to our late arrival.

For the next two shows I worked (in Ballybofey, Co. Donegal, and in Waterford City), I had singles matches with Danny Butler which led into tag matches, where I teamed with Seán Maxer against Danny and Corvin (in Donegal) and Danny & Bonesaw (in Waterford.) Though I'd worked with Corvin and Bonesaw previously (in very enjoyable matches), I hadn't with Danny, bar maybe the very odd exchange in an 8-man tag, or something like that.

I'd thought (incorrectly) that Danny was more of a brawler, so I wasn't sure how well our styles would mesh. When it came down to it, though, our styles- rather than clashing- complemented each other well,  and I really enjoyed the matches I've had with him. I think we've developed quite a good chemistry over a short period of time. It's always cool to work with someone new, and click with them right from the off, and that's what's happened here.

Nailing Danny Butler with a Samoan driver - still need my own name for this move! If anyone has any suggestions, let me know. Thanks to John Morrissey for this shot from Waterford's Theatre Royal

The tags, too, were fun to do, and the crowd was nicely alive and into both of them.

The Ballybofey ("Bally-bo-fay") show was my first show ever in Donegal, so I managed to tick that off the list of Irish counties I've worked in. Only Clare and Roscommon left, I think. Waterford is somewhere I've worked loads of times over the years and enjoyed immensely, but it was weird this time to cross that bridge into the city, and not head straight towards The Forum (the previous venue for many the IWW show I did, and one CCW one last year- I think it's a bingo hall now.) We instead headed for the Theatre Royal, which was a fantastic venue, and nicely located.

Were it not for wrestling, there's no way I would've had the opportunity to see thirty of the thirty two counties on this island. It's been a great experience, getting to travel around to these places, seeing different sights and towns and villages, and doing something I love.

Back in my early days in Irish Whip Wrestling, we made a few trips out to Drogheda, in nearby Co. Louth, and did shows at the Europa Hotel, just outside the town centre. Despite the low(ish) ceiling and having to change in a small area just outside the hotel kitchen, it was a great place to wrestle, and the fans were always lively and vocal. Amongst those, were four teenaged lads (Mike, Chris, Shane and Seán) who not only came to the Drogheda shows, but made the trip to Dublin to a few Gym Wars shows, along with some of the bigger ones in Donnycarney and Balbriggan. The lads were very supportive of yours truly, something which I've always appreciated. In fact, I got a king's chair from them (pictured below) when I won the Zero Gravity Championship Tournament in Balbriggan, in early 2007! The fact that they were there for a great moment in not only my wrestling career but my life in general still means something.

Getting a king's chair from the Drogheda lads, following the IWW Zero G tournament in January, 2007. Chris on my right, Shane on my left (with his hand dangerously close to the Ballance family jewels) and Mike on my far left, in red, pointing at some jerk...

So, when I heard from show photographer/regular backrake victim (heh heh) John Morrissey that Mike was filming a documentary ('The Art of the Squared Circle') with his production company 'Scented Cinema Productions' (, I was pleased, and glad for the chance to catch up. Having Mike and his crew there for the last few shows has been nice, and they've been extremely sound to deal with, and just to chat to, in general.

I've done interviews for, and taken part in, the occasional documentary on Irish wrestling over the years. Some have been decent, some have completely missed the point, and some simply don't have a point to make, content to just throw a few clips and talking head interviews together, without any theme, rhyme or reason. I have faith that Scented Cinema will buck the trend, do justice to what we do, and reflect our efforts, dedication and hard work in a respectful light. I definitely look forward to seeing what they come up with.

The Waterfront Theatre in Belfast was the site of the last show for this blog. Nicely (and respectably) packed out, especially in the wake of a WWE show in Belfast's Odyssey the previous night, it was a nice place to wrestle (even in spite of having to deal with difficult staff corralling us into small areas of the venue.) I made the trip there with former WWE star Mason Ryan, TNA's Magnus and Vic Viper. Mason was a very sound guy, and I'd spent a few hours with him, having given him a lift from the ferry port in Dublin earlier in the day. (Wasn't the nicest day to travel across the Irish sea, incidentally, in light of lashing rain and very strong winds - I enquired if he'd brought his 'sea legs', but he replied that he only had room for one pair in his suitcase, and thought it best to pack his 'wrestling legs.' A good call, I'm sure you'd agree.) Vic, I've known for ages, and I'd met Magnus at a DPW show in Yorkshire back in 2008, so I knew what to expect there- heh heh.

I usually pack a few pairs of tights for a show, so I can have options of what colours to sport, as it were. Earlier this year, I got a pair made by my usual gear-makers (AWP, in Australia), in black, red and white. I was (and am) really happy with them but, unfortunately, there's been a lot of red & black gear on the shows I've done over the past while, and I generally like my gear to stand out, so I wear other colours.  As a result, I haven't really gotten a chance to wear them. The 'red and black attack' was no more obvious than this show, when I was in one of the dressing rooms backstage, and everyone else in the room was in those colours: Danny Butler, Bonesaw, Jake Mason (my partner that evening), Corvin (who changed to silver and purple) and Kazza G (who didn't- good for her!) There may have been one or two others, but they escape me. At any rate, my red and black went unworn again, and I elected to rock the black and turquoise. Sometime soon, the red & black will have its day! #firstworldwrestlerproblems

The infamous black and red gear- one day, it'll get another wear!

The match I had on the show was a lot of fun - I teamed with Jake Mason (sound dude) against Danny and Bonesaw. The crowd needed a little bit of persistence on our part to keep them clapping, chanting, booing and so on, but made noise in the right places and at the right times, and it was an enjoyable bout. That was it for my involvement in the show, which was headlined by a fatal fourway for the Wrestling.IE Championship pitting Dunkan Disorderly against Mason, Magnus and Drew McIntyre. (I'd done a number of shows with Drew back in IWW in 2005/2006, so it was nice to see him again, as well.)

Nailing Bonesaw and Danny with my unfortunately-named Sexual Harassment Plancha, during the Belfast show. Thanks again to John Morrissey for this fantastic shot. 

Leaving the place, and setting off home, took a bit longer than usual as the post-show meet & greet lasted a while and Mason was shooting a sit-down interview with Mike and the Scented Cinema lads. I did take the opportunity, though, to remind Kazza a few more times that I planned to kill her at some point in the near future. It's on my to-do list... At any rate, we managed to get back on the road around 11:30 and, after the drop-offs, I pulled into my local McDonald's drive-thru just before 2. Options are limited at that hour, and I'd usually either go for McDonald's or Hillbilly's - generally the latter's tempting fried chicken and gravy dip are too much to resist, but I didn't fancy further driving on the night that was in it, so "Maccy D's" got the nod.

The four shows I've done since returning from my short, injury-necessitated sabbatical have been fun, and I can definitely say that I'm happy to be back. There are still things I want to do, and hopefully I'll get the opportunity to do them over the next while.

Since the last blog, I've seen a reasonable few films, so here's a quick rundown...

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Tedious, and way too long. I'm done with Michael Bay, at this stage. Shame to see Jack Reynor in this dreck- he was very good in What Richard Did.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Very enjoyable. One of the best films I've seen this year. Great use of CGI for the incredible fightin' apes.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Enjoyed it, though I think it had been a little over-hyped for me, in advance. Definitely thought it was good, but I, personally, wouldn't say it was great or terrific, or anything like that. Think I'm a little superhero'd out!

The Purge: Anarchy
Better than the first, I think, in that it made better use of its premise. Still fairly light on characterisation, though.

The Expendables 3
Really enjoyed it. Mel Gibson was a fantastic villain. Great action and humour throughout

As Above, So Below
Decent horror. Has a few tense bits, and an interesting story/premise.

Started ok, but went off the rails, and I didn't give a shit by the end. Reminded me of Transcendence, which went the same way, I felt.

The Guest
Up there as one of my favourites this year. Absolutely loved it, and had a grin plastered across my face for most of it. Pitch black humour, great action, and suitably thrilling in parts. Dan Stevens was a great lead.

Gone Girl
Another favourite. I read the book and absolutely hated the second half of it, especially the conclusion. The film (and performances) did a great job of improving on the ending, while not changing much about it. I really like David Fincher's work - Se7en is one of my favourite films- and this is another string to his already-impressive bow. Great film.

The Maze Runner
A pleasant surprise. Well-acted, an intriguing story, and more room to expand on that story. I'd certainly check out the sequel.

Nicely suspenseful thriller, set during the Troubles, in Belfast. Good performances.

The Babadook
Not what I was expecting, but an interesting film in its own right. I thought this was going to be along the lines of Insidious or Sinister, but it played out more as a psychological thriller, and was all the better for going its own way. Liked it.

Christopher Nolan would also be a favourite of mine. His body of work tends to polarise but, to be honest, I've enjoyed everything he's released so far. Coming out from this film, I didn't know whether I liked it or not, which was a weird feeling! I was kinda the same when I saw Rob Zombie's Halloween II the first time- on a second viewing, I was able to make my mind up: it was shite. Interstellar, though, does not merit the same judgment, in my book. It does lack a little coherence, in terms of the bandying about of theories on relativity, gravity, and quantum mechanics, but the basic meat-and-potatoes story is sound, the acting's very good, and I loved the visuals and the score (definitely something different from Hans Zimmer.) I'd definitely watch it again, to try to get more of a grasp on the story, and what's going on. A very ambitious and original film in this day and age, in any case.

Great performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, who's really gone up in my estimations over the last few years, especially his great turn in Prisoners. This is more of a character piece than anything else. To be honest, not an awful lot actually happens, but it's fascinating to follow this amoral guy around, and see what transpires. Rene Russo was very good, too - hadn't seen her name pop up in years before this.

On my viewing list over the past few months have been the likes of Friday Night Lights (superb - blitzed through the five seasons), Veronica Mars (enjoyable first season- plan to watch the rest), Fargo (solid show, but couldn't compare to the film), Arrow (brilliant second season, very promising third, so far), The Walking Dead (good fourth season), Love/Hate (a very impressive fifth series, whose finale was spoiled for me the morning after it aired by the hosts on FM104's Strawberry Alarm Clock - very inconsiderate.) In addition to those, I've been re-watching Seinfeld, American Dad, The Thick of It, Peep Show, and Family Guy. One of my favourites, though, of the last while (aside from Game of Thrones) was the low-key British crime thriller/mystery Broadchurch, which was absolutely outstanding. Why the Americans have felt the need to remake it as Gracepoint, I have no idea, but I have little interest in watching it. Currently checking out the Coven series of American Horror Story, which I'm enjoying so far.

I tend not (and prefer not) to get too political in these things, but it was great to see people protesting peacefully in Dublin, and throughout Ireland, recently, against the proposed tax for residential water, due to come in from January 2015. (I make the distinction between peacefully protesting, and the kind of scumbaggish carry-on being organised by the likes of the 'Dublin Says No' group; the kind of morons pushing and shoving Gardaí and water meter installers, then screaming assault and police brutality when they're pushed back, or subdued. They haven't a fucking notion about police brutality.) For my own part, I have no objection, in theory, to paying for water. I do think, however, that the establishment of Irish Water, the untold millions of Euros wasted on meter installation and consultants' fees, the inept lack of communication from the government on the nature of the taxes/fees (and their subsequent rowback on these), and the idea of awarding bonuses (even at this early stage) to underperforming IW employees has reduced the entire process to a three-act farce.

The whole program has been handled disastrously by the current government, and there's every possibility that they'll be punished for it, once the next general election comes around. Not that it'll make any difference in the grand scheme of things, incidentally - the main political parties in this country are interchangeable, while the others are perennial opposition parties. They wouldn't know what to do if they were given the proverbial keys to the country. (Does the country have keys? I'll look into that for the next one of these...)

Loved the new edition of The Death of WCW - great book, and excellent additions from recent storylines, and the WCW mistakes that TNA inexplicably repeated. Another one I enjoyed was 'Titan Sinking: The Decline of the WWF in 1995' by James Dixon (who also wrote the riveting 'All or Nothing' account on the rise and demise of UK promotion 1PW.) Despite going a little off Chris Jericho over the last while, due to the many self-aggrandising remarks he's made these last few years, his new book is also quite enjoyable, and reasonably insightful.

'Til next time, folks, take care.