Hitting towns solo doing wrestling coverage was a beast I never even fathomed of encountering a year ago (let alone ever) but low and behold, here I was in Queens the Friday before WrestleMania doing just that. The assignment: cover MLW Battle Riot 2 at The Melrose Ballroom.
I have seen and heard the good word about Court Bauer’s baby, but wanted to see the action unfold with my own two peepers. If I was going to miss NXT TakeOver: New York (which I was by attending MLW) so be it. I’m sure I would hear about the packed house and A+ action at The Barclays, but I’ve found live wrestling for me was all about the intimate setting and the relationship the talent forms with that particular crowd on that particular night. A wrestling “slice of life” so to speak. The Melrose Ballroom was just the spot. You had the eager crowd whetting it’s palette for their ongoing squared circled fix and you had the stars on an elevated stage, but still at arm’s length. Presentation was a primary bullet point for MLW and the production team had their set-up television ready.
It had to be for all the characters MLW Battle Riot 2 contained.
As I walked in and was lead to the media table, MLW’s social media man Andy approached me and asked who I was interested in interviewing. First person came to mind was the Champ, Tom Lawlor as I liked his attitude and approach to the one true sport. His MMA background was an added bonus to a complete package of a wrestler who knew who he was. It wasn’t but 10 minutes until Lawlor was sitting by me, who was genuine as they come, energetic but exhausted from the hellish match he just had with Jimmy Havoc the night before. We talked for a solid seven minutes as he shared the story of his already wild weekend in New York City and how the move and chaotic groove of The Big Apple wasn’t something he was a particular fan of, but the environment inside of Melrose was undeniable. We talked of his previous Battle Riot win and I asked him if he had any tips for tonight’s competitors and Lawlor said how all the prep work should have already happened. With how fast-paced the Battle Riot 2 was, no truer words were spoken that night.
Next up came Alex Hammerstone, one of MLW’s newest talents and a member of The Dynasty along with MJF and Richard Holliday. Hammerstone is young, but is another guy who has both a physical and charismatic presence about him. Citing guys like Brock Lesnar, Triple H and Chris Jericho as his inspirations for his own development, Hammerstone has the scales well-balanced between being a good interview as he maintains his self-assured sense of cockiness and confidence. Hammerstone’s focus is all about personality rather than the flip and kick athleticism, and from those brief four minutes I spoke with him, the guy certainly has a goal and a direction set for himself.
— Hammerstone (insert blue checkmark) (@alexhammerstone) April 20, 2019
Doing a pre-show meet and greet happened to be all three members of The Hart Foundation and the personality of Brian Pillman Jr. was almost immediate when I mis-introduced the faction as The Hart Dynasty rather than the 2.0 iteration of the family’s famed fathers. “Let me correct you, it’s The Hart FOUNDATION, The Dynasty is our opponents so please keep that name out of your mouth.” All three members in Teddy, Brian and Davey Boy Jr. have all carved their own path in MLW and judging by the reception each member received throughout the evening, they are the promotion’s hottest act, Pillman in particular, who the crowd was constantly chanting for any time he came out. The Foundation brand isn’t worn and weathered as the trio is sure to tip their cap to it’s historic roots, but forward remains their vision as they stay true to who they are as individuals.
While wrestling’s largest entity in WWE struggles to display an identity outside of the mind of their 73-year-old ringmaster, MLW knows exactly what who they are: everyone as themselves. The stars are embraced, cultivated and promoted there without inhibitions or trepidation. Tom Lawlor is free to walk to the ring with champion belt on his back and pace the ring like a caged animal as he readies to defend his title. The long-time veteran LA Park is treated as a top talent and isn’t defined down because of age, but quite the opposite actually. He is paired with hot acts like Hijo De LA Park & Salina de la Renta to keep his legacy, influence and character strong.
— Dominic DeAngelo of WrestleZone.com (@DominicDeAngelo) April 6, 2019
Nothing encompassed the “everyone as themselves” more than the start of the Battle Riot. MJF was the unlucky individual to draw number one, but if you asked the Rosie O’Donnell show alumni about the sun shining on his misfortune, you would have thought he just threw everyone over in victory. MJF was ready for anyone who was ready to step onto the stage at number two, but he or the crowd wasn’t ready for Dan “The Beast” Severn. Queen’s “We Will Rock You” echoed throughout the Ballroom as a now unsettled MJF watched as the UFC legend stepped through the ropes. Seeing someone as new and fresh as MJF face off with someone as well renowned as Severn was a showdown no one could imagine, but here it was coming to fruition right in Queens. That moment right there gave me all the confidence in MLW as a brand and as a healthy alternative for pro wrestling fans, one that has their ducks lined up.
There were several times throughout the evening in conversations I’d have with MLW employees and fellow media personnel of where I’d say, “Court knows what he’s doing.” Everyone was quick to agree.
We encourage you all to discuss Dominic’s thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this post and follow him on Twitter @DominicDeAngelo and listen to his Get The Tray Tables podcast exclusively on WrestleZone Radio.