So that was Wrestle Queendom II, then. A hot and sweaty summer’s afternoon spent watching some of the best wrestlers in the world beat the tar out of one another. Heartbreak and triumph and spilt blood set against a slow-setting sun, the old glass roof of York Hall growing gradually darker. High expectations met and often exceeded. This is Pro Wrestling EVE in 2019: a company which is not interested in playing it safe, who have their craft down to a fine art and should – if there is any justice in the world – very soon become the name on everyone’s lips when we talk about women’s wrestling.
This year EVE collaborated with Japan’s STARDOM, an inspired touch which offered us fresh matchups and a broadened palette of wrestling styles to sample. It was also proof positive that while Joshi wrestling may have had the jump on Western women’s wrestling for several decades, EVE’s own stars can more than hold their own.
It was a joy to see Pro Wrestling EVE spread their metaphorical wings and transition so successfully to York Hall, a much bigger and more intimidating venue than the intimate and punkishly shabby Resistance Gallery. And in many ways, this shift feels portentous; these past few years have seen EVE go from something small and homegrown to something far bigger, far more ambitious, with a great deal to say for itself. While the Resistance Gallery is in many ways the perfect home for Pro Wrestling EVE, which retains a kind of safety pins and sew-on patches authenticity, a larger venue feels like a logical next step, and a bigger audience is surely EVE’s due at this point.
The atmosphere did feel different from the Resistance Gallery shows. This is not a bad thing, and indeed there are several logical reasons as to why: the fact that the show was (ostensibly) PG-rated, for one, which elided some of the more colourful chants and banter. The York Hall audience was comprised of a mixed bag of EVE regulars (frequently spotted in the first few rows) and those new to the promotion. And of course, the venue itself, which – though perfectly suited to professional wrestling, as Revolution Pro Wrestling will attest – necessarily nixes some of that intimate, ‘secret girl gang’ atmosphere around which EVE have so successfully crafted their brand.
But this is a minor quibble, if it is even a quibble at all. The only thing you need to know is that Pro Wrestling EVE are abundantly capable of filling seats in a bigger venue, and equally capable of putting on the kind of wrestling show that venue warrants.
Opening match Yuu vs Nightshade saw fan-beloved Tokyo Joshi Pro import Yuu play to her strengths: being super cute and super powerful. Pitting Yuu against consummate heel Nightshade (who has really spread her wings since emerging as a singles competitor) was a smart choice – the kind of opening match which even a pro-wrestling novice can get into without too much whirring of brain-cogs. Not every wrestling match needs a complex story or high stakes; sometimes it’s enough to see two big strong women try to out-muscle one another for the hell of it.
Next up was an all-STARDOM match, and one of my most anticipated matches of the night. Oedo Tai’s Kagetsu (accompanied by matching jumpsuit-clad mooks Jamie Hayter and Session Moth Martina) took on Mayu Iwatani, a woman widely regarded as being one of the world’s best wrestlers. Kagetsu is pure charisma, her swagger magnetic, in turns vicious and gleeful; Iwatani, on the other hand, has that kind of energy and vitality which makes it impossible to root against her. And she is very good. Bone-crunching double foot stomp from the top turnbuckle contrasts beautifully with the most magnificent suplex bridge you’ve ever seen. At just fifteen minutes, this match ended up going to a time-limit draw, but in some ways that was a stroke of genius. Both women go out looking strong, and there’s plenty left to anticipate – for STARDOM neophytes, this one was a perfect taster of just how good both Kagetsu and Iwatani can be.
Not an easy act to follow, but neither Laura DiMatteo nor Jordynne Grace are apt to shy away from a challenge. The story here is simple and effective: EVE firebrand DiMatteo tapped out Grace in a four-way last year and has been goading the Impact star about it ever since. That pitch-perfect exchange from the pre-match promo video sums up the entire feud in two well-chosen lines (Grace: “What makes you think you can beat me twice?” DiMatteo: “What makes you think you can beat me once?”). Sometimes, the best feuds are just plain old grudges. This more than lived up to expectations: Grace’s credentials are well-established by now, while DiMatteo has built a formidable reputation over the past couple of years, rising from scrappy underdog to polished, assured star-in-the-making, a successor to the Charlie Morgan crown (more about that in a moment). And DiMatteo shines best in these kinds of matches: Grace is formidably powerful, but DiMatteo is pure heart. Put the two together and you get magic. Everything about this match was superb, but the last few minutes in particular made the heart race.
At She Who Dares, Wins, Charli Evans came out on top in a wild BattleBowl match, which granted her the right to a match of her choosing at Wrestle Queendom. Never one to set her sights too low, Evans opted to challenge for the Pro Wrestling EVE Tag Team Championships. Just one problem: those titles did not yet exist. For her sins, Charli Evans is thus responsible for pioneering the EVE tag scene, and wasted no time in forming an alliance with teenage prodigy and suplex machine Millie McKenzie. The Medusa Complex, as they have come to be known, have made an enormous pain in the arse of themselves over the last few months, but the creation of the tag titles has inspired other teams to come together.
Thus, this contest for the titles saw Jinny and up-and-coming heel extraordinaire Mercedez Blaze form the Diamond Vogue Collective, while the effervescent Wrestle Friends (Jetta and Erin Angel) – whose beef with Evans and McKenzie is becoming legendary – formed the third team in the three-way. This was a fun and chaotic affair, occasionally tricky to keep track of, as three-way tag matches so often are. It felt like The Medusa Complex were a safe bet to clinch the titles – it was their idea after all – but there’s nothing quite like subverted expectations, so when Wrestle Friends came out on top there was a sense of triumph. Erin Angel and Jetta have been EVE stalwarts since the very beginning, and are both resolutely fan favourites. And Angel absorbed so much punishment in this match (as well as pulling off a superb turnbuckle dive to the outside) that it feels right for her to emerge victorious. It’s not over yet as far as The Medusa Complex are concerned, and I suspect Diamond Vogue Collective will have plenty to say for themselves as well, but for now, we can safely say that nobody does it Jetta.
Then things got weird. Despite being a PG show, Su Yung and Session Goth Martina brought violence and plenty of claret to their (un)Death Match. Featuring such strange and interesting implements as a beer can kendo stick, a scattering of tiny plastic babies (provided by another, much larger baby) and an actual door, there was a healthy dash of surrealism to proceedings. The performative aspect was turned up to 11, which felt appropriate: Su Yung is brilliantly committed to character in a pro-wrestling landscape which seems to view larger-than-life personae as gauche. And of course, Martina, parading her multiple personalities like a latter-day Mankind, is the ideal foil to Yung’s eerie gothic splendour. Bringing out the brutal Session Goth allows for Martina to maintain a veneer of believability (grinding on Su Yung would not be bants) whilst leaning in to her well-honed theatrics – her struggle to keep back the advancing army of undead bridesmaids was great. Possibly a little longer than it needed to be, but an enjoyable spectacle, and a clever way of bringing something completely different to the card.
How to talk about what happened next? It’s hard to recount Charlie Morgan’s speech with any sense of neutrality. To see her back in an EVE ring was wonderful. To hear her break the news that she would be retiring was utterly devastating. Morgan’s star has been rising unstoppably for the last few years, a trajectory that would see her become Pro Wrestling EVE champion, become the first ever wrestler to come out as gay in the ring; it would see her perform as part of the WWE roster. It would see her cross the pond to America, where her debut match for Shimmer led to a broken ankle. Except that as Morgan explained, that broken ankle turned out to be much worse than she had ever imagined.
It’s impossible to begrudge Charlie Morgan the right to spend the rest of her years as healthy as she can possibly be. And if stepping away from the ring means she gets to live a long and happy life, then we owe it to her as fans to support her decision. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t immensely painful when one of wrestling’s brightest young stars retires at just 27 years old.
I did not envy Roxxy and Arisa Hoshiki, whose match for the Wonder of Stardom Title came immediately after Charlie Morgan’s bombshell. They did their best with a difficult spot on the card, and although it didn’t quite click in places it was nonetheless an entertaining enough effort, and a pleasure to see Roxxy challenging for a title – even though it felt fairly certain that the belt was safe in Hoshiki’s hands. I’ve had my eye on Roxxy for a while now, and with a bit more experience – perhaps even a stint in Japan – I remain unswayed in my belief that she is going to be something special in years to come.
Another title match next as reigning EVE International Champion Utami Hayashishita defended her belt against Jamie Hayter (with Kagetsu at ringside) and Nina Samuels in a triple threat. This match ran on elimination rules, and unsurprisingly the crowd were united in their consensus that ‘anyone but Nina’ should win. Samuels continues to be one of the best heels in the business, inspiring such disdain that the formerly reviled Jamie Hayter has undergone a full 360 to de facto babyface solely because she’s in opposition to Samuels.
The match itself was excellent, showcasing Utami’s power – her shoulder tackles look like being hit by a truck – and her resourcefulness, catching both Hayter and Samuels in a single-leg crab at one point. So when Utami fell victim to the first pinfall, it was quite the swerve. The mutual antipathy between Samuels and Hayter reached fever pitch, with steel chairs being unleashed and low blows exchanged. Ultimately, though, Samuels fell to Hayter, and it felt very much like the right decision – Jamie claims the belt for Oedo Tai, and Samuels slinks back into the shadows with her tail between her legs. For now.
Going in to Wrestle Queendom II with the knowledge that both Kay Lee Ray and Viper would be leaving EVE immediately afterwards, fans had speculated and theorised about what would happen to the Pro Wrestling EVE championship. Regardless of who won, it seemed clear that the belt itself would have to be vacated. Not that this dampened enthusiasm for the match. Two bona fide EVE fan favourites saying fairwell in the best way they know how: beating each other up for our entertainment. A deliberately slow and emotional start to proceedings peppered with in-jokes (MOUNTAIN!), cleverly building to fever pitch – the very epitome of the term ‘friendly rivalry’, both women trying to outdo one another, but so familiar with the other’s oeuvre that it was necessary to pull out the stops to gain the upper hand. This is the kind of storytelling that gets you Viper atop Ray’s shoulders, teetering precariously before whipping Ray backwards into the most brutal reverse rana I’ve ever seen. And although it wasn’t especially surprising that Viper picked up the win – we were all hoping for it, let’s be real – the actual result of the match was never the point. It was always about saying goodbye.
This was a fantastic send-off for these two women, who have given so much of themselves to EVE, and whose success is so well-deserved. And if the result wasn’t a surprise, don’t worry: EVE pulled the ultimate swerve in the dying minutes of the show. EVE matchmaker Rhia O’Reilly came out to congratulate Viper on her win. But in a shocking twist, O’Reilly beat Viper down (with the help of brand new cronies Nightshade and Livvii Grace). The formerly beloved babyface had gone rogue, and used her matchmaking powers to demand a title shot – right there and then. Exhausted and outnumbered, Viper lost her title in a matter of minutes, and Rhia O’Reilly is now your new Pro Wrestling EVE champion. And I bet not a single one of you saw that coming.
With Wrestle Queendom II now behind us, we enter into a new era for Pro Wrestling EVE. An era without Charlie Morgan. Without Kay Lee Ray, or Viper, or Kris Wolf, or Toni Storm. And if we’ve learned anything tonight, it’s that EVE still have talent for days, even without those key players. Wrestlers like Laura DiMatteo and Jamie Hayter are waiting in the wings to claim their spot at the top; with Rhia O’Reilly and her new stable gatekeeping the title, it’s an exciting time to be an EVE fan. I can’t wait to see what they do next.