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    Saturday, October 22, 2016

    PWR Renaissance 2016: The Official Smark Henry Review

    "Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

    - William Shakespeare

    There's a certain bravado in naming a pro wrestling show Renaissance, as the Philippine Wrestling Revolution did for the show that launched their journey to revive the Filipino wrestling scene all the way back in September 2014. Deliberately or not, the name thrusts expectations of greatness upon the show. It proclaims itself the herald of a golden age. The name, with all its weight and gravitas, puts the immense crunch of pressure on every performer who sets foot in the ring, and demands absolute flawlessness both in their mental focus and physical execution.

    That's a long and roundabout way of saying, goddamn, these PWR guys keep setting the bar higher and higher for themselves. Because after a raucously entertaining PWR Live: The ShawDown last August, PWR Renaissance 2016 faced incredibly high expectations to exceed themselves, and deliver the highest level of showmanship and glory.

    When it comes to measuring greatness, wrestling reviewers traditionally like to dish out ratings based on the Dave Meltzer 5-star scale. We think that's prissy and abstract. Us local rasslin' boys prefer to rank how much we like matches and segments based on something tangible and true to us: some fucking good meat.

    By some wonderful coincidence, the Smark Henry live coverage crew found ourselves chowing down at Sonsi House of Longganisa after a wild three hours of slobberknockin' action at Renaissance, and realized that the only true way we could establish how much we enjoyed the show was by measuring it against how much enjoyment we got from each dish we ordered. Because saying something "deserved a 5-star rating" just doesn't hit as hard as "it was as good as a plate of some longsilog."

    Mmm... Longsilog. (Photo via Mac Centeno) 

    And with that, on to the meat of things, with our proprietary new Sonsi Scale of Wrestling Greatness to rate the events of the evening.


    Tier 1: Inihaw na Bacon (Undeniably Great)

    You'd think a place that calls itself "The House of Longganisa" would have longganisa as the most glorious dish on the menu. That's where Sonsi takes us all by surprise with its sneakily good menu A-lister, its delightful platter of paper-thin pork belly slices flavorfully infused in a toyo-calamansi based marinade and charred Pinoy-style over some good ol' fashioned uling.

    Sonsi's inihaw na bacon is ridiculously good, and its only fair that we assign the segments of Renaissance we enjoyed the most under its mind-blowing awesomeness.

    Photo via OpenSnap.com

    Main Maxx Steals The Show (And Everyone's Hearts)

    Let's address the elephant in the room. Nobody believes for one second that Main Maxx is a bad guy. Even from the moment he threw his hat in with the Royal Flush two years ago, he's always seemed miscast as the evil muscle to back up the trash-talking, party-hard trio of "Classical" Bryan Leo (where the hell is he, by the way?), John Sebastian, and Peter Versoza.

    Maxx is clearly a proud, confident warrior who knows how to leverage his massive bulk and trademark "silent rage" to sow a path of destruction wherever he's aimed. But that pride has never translated into arrogance; the reigning PHX Champion may be a force of nature in the ring, but we've seen him interact with his fans after each show, and the man carries himself with a gentle nobility.

    That's probably why fans in attendance reacted to viscerally to the masterful storytelling during Main Maxx's PHX Championship defense against the never-say-die Crystal. The match in itself was a spectacle, with Crystal delivering numerous heart-stopping near-upset moments, including locking Maxx into her patented Black Widow submission that had the crowd on its feet, and a furious tornado DDT that spiked her 280-pound opponent on his head. "This is awesome!" was the well-deserved chant the crowd gave the two warriors, and they weren't wrong. The match was pretty damn awesome.

    But more captivating was the internal conflict that slowly emerged in PWR's own Big Rocket as the match progressed; from grim determination to destroy his opponent, we could see a grudging respect forming in Maxx's eyes with each near-fall, realizing that his opponent had as big a heart as he did.

    Even the finish, where Maxx had the opportunity to crush Crystal into a pile of putanesca sauce with his trademark Blitzkrieg choke bomb, only to half-heartedly drop his semi-conscious opponent with a comparatively softer choke-drop instead, aroused an even bigger chant than the previous one: "You have feelings!" the crowd roared, as the mighty Goliath showed us all a rare peek at his merciful side.

    Even his subsequent three-count seemed full of regret, as if Maxx (for all his braggadocio over being the longest-reigning PHX Champion in history), sincerely felt bad over vanquishing his foe.

    This only became clearer as Peter Versoza entered the ring after the match to blast a fallen Crystal with an Orocan-aided Trouble in Paradise kick, only for Maxx to step in and put a halt to the abuse. Maxx extended a hand to the most worthy foe he's faced, helped her to her feet, and gave her a brief moment of respect before the rabid PWR crowd, before exiting the ring to look forward to his next challenge as PHX Champion.

    What a match. What a story. This easily deserved to be called the inihaw na bacon bottomless platter match of the night.

    Result: Main Maxx defeats Crystal via pinfall

    A New #1 Contender for the PHX Championship Emerges

    Main Maxx may have revealed he has feelings, but he's got some dark clouds on the horizon with an interesting next challenger for his PHX Championship, the athletic, explosive Pinoy Tecnico himself, SANDATA, who vanquished long-time rival Chino Guinto of The Network to claim #1 Contender status in an electric submissions-only match that drew out the first "This is awesome!" chant of the evening.

    The two men have come face to face many times in the past, and this became the key to the match's underlying theme: two men who have scouted each other so well, the whole match was one seamless dance of punch-counterpunch of each other's best moves. There's a very good reason the crowd was running a molten chant of "Fight forever!" throughout the whole match.

    Some masterful storytelling revealed great continuity from past matches; in their first encounter ever, Guinto did not appreciate getting smashed face-first into the mat with SANDATA's trademark Pagbasag huracan-facebuster, countering it with a deadlift sitout powerbomb their next match, only for SANDATA to raise the stakes by elevating the move into the Philippines' first-ever top-rope huracanrana at their epic PHX Gauntlet match at Wrevolution X. This time, Guinto had a sneaky new escape, foiling SANDATA's top-rope Pagbasag attempt this time around with a face-first avalanche bomb into the turnbuckle that legitimately exploded his masked opponent's nose into a bloody mess. We also saw a beautiful reversal sequence that had SANDATA's flying armbar countered into Seth Rollins' devious turnbuckle bomb, followed up by a Gold Digger stomp.

    "The Golden Boy" also showed the charisma that have some fans calling him the best natural slimy "guy you love to hate" in the company, riling up the audience with his foul-mouthed taunts, playing cat-and-mouse with their feelings until a thunderous "CHI-NO-PA!" chant filled the Bayanihan Center.

    Too bad it wasn't enough to throw SANDATA off his submission game, with the wily Southern Warrior finally switching up his numerous failed ankle lock attempts to bust out his long-unused Garrote mounted cobra clutch that had Guinto pass out in pain rather than tap out.

    Valiant match that showed off the superior conditioning of two of the best athletes in PWR today. SANDATA may be moving on to fight for the PHX Championship match, but Guinto proved he has what it takes to be a top star in the local industry.

    He's still a goddamn douche though.

    Result: SANDATA defeats Chino Guinto via TKO

    Mr. Sy Drops the Pipebomb of His Life

    And speaking of inihaw na bacon, what would the night be without the unexpected return of the estranged Mr. Sy, who dropped a monster pipebomb on the mismanagement that's been running rampant in PWR since he was unceremoniously fired as PWR General Manager last May? From revealing large-scale fraud regarding unpaid talent fees from PWR's past provincial tours in Manila and Batanes, an erratic show schedule, and a chaotic All Out War match that saw the beloved Chris Panzer torn into a bloody mess by The Apocalypse (more on this later), Sy made the case that the company needed him—and he put forth a convincing argument. If PWR management had, in fact, been infiltrated by liars and frauds, as he claimed, then an iron fist was what it would take to whip the company back into a surer financial state.

    Dropping f-bombs left and right, Sy demanded to be reinstated as head honcho of the company.

    Enter the man who got him fired in the first place: The #1 Contender to the PWR Championship, John Sebastian, to shut him up. The barbs between the two showed some deep-rooted hate, and laid out the potential to be PWR's version of the Mr. McMahon-Steve Austin feud of the WWE's Attitude Era.

    Tier 2: Cebu Chorizo (Polarizingly Great)

    Depending on where you're from, Sonsi's proprietary take on the sweet-and-spicy Cebu chorizo is either the best thing to happen—or the absolute worst. Some people salivate over the complex flavors that flood the mouth with each bite, while others say the caramelized jamonado richness is too umay-inducing.

    Sounds like a fair comparison for the next tier of greatness.

    Photo via Marc Weebly

    Jake De Leon Survives The Sebastian Threat... For Now

    The red-hot John Sebastian seemed to be locked onto a trajectory to reclaim the PWR Championship for the Royal Flush, just months after unceremoniously ejecting "Classical" Bryan Leo from the stable. And to be fair to him, nobody would have been surprised to see him topple the crowd darling Jake De Leon from the top of the Philippine Wrestling Revolution on this night; the man has been dominant for most of 2016, and a victory in his first-ever match for championship stakes would have been a tremendous punctuation to the year he's been having.

    But for one more night, "The Senyorito" was unsinkable.

    Sebastian pulled out all the stops, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at JDL in a frenetic attempt to unseat his popular foe. Every single one of John Sebastian's Greatest Hits was on full display, from a crushing Attitude Adjustment that had De Leon gasping for breath, to a grueling over-the-shoulder neckbreaker that nearly had the reigning PWR kingpin paralyzed. Everyone thought he had dealt the coup de grace after nearly caving in Jake De Leon's skull with a Killshot running knee strike, only for the Heir to Hacienda De Leon to kick out of a 2.9-count, and regain his composure long enough to whip Sebastian into a thunderous Alipin Drop for the successful defense.

    In the absence of the much-missed Bombay Suarez, nobody can stake a greater claim to being PWR's "Heart and Soul" than Jake De Leon; he radiates a cool and cocky charisma reminiscent of late-era AJ Styles, and has single-handedly been the company's first and last line of defense against the Royal Flush in PWR's two years of existence. He's defeated each member in a match, and has been a constant thorn in their sides in their quest to rule PWR. It was satisfying to see him stand victorious over Sebastian on this one night, in the same way that he successfully pinned Bryan Leo in the main event of Renaissance 2014. But yet, the match fell flat compared to their previous encounters; we know that both men have great chemistry with each other, yet it seemed that this particular contest never made it past third gear.

    A shame, but at least we have a rematch at PWR Live: Suplex Sunday to look forward to. The post-match Bacolod Bullrope stipulation should introduce an interesting new dynamic between the two, and hopefully let both talented men wrestle to their fullest potential.

    Result: Jake De Leon defeats John Sebastian via pinfall

    Darkness Falls For Chris Panzer

    Where does Chris Panzer go from here?

    Despite being immensely popular among PWR fans for his high-octane offense and movie-star good looks, Chris Panzer has built himself a reputation as PWR's ultimate choker, consistently falling flat on his (admittedly handsome) face each time he has a shot at glory. From stumbling in the semifinals of the inaugural PWR Championship tournament, to underachieving in each of his shots for championship gold, whether in the Philippines or in Malaysia, he just can't seem to get the job done. "Has potential" is just a polite term for people who can't get the job done, and as of today, Panzer is stuck in that hazy limbo.

    We have to wonder why Panzer agreed to the All Out War stipulation in his match against the monstruous Apocalypse. For a guy who just can't seem to bust through the glass ceiling, it was a gutsy move that would either see him rise in a blaze of glory, or flame out in yet another tailspin. Unfortunately for the Leader of the Panzer Army, it was another tailspin evening that saw him exit the ring in a beaten, bloody mess.

    The Apocalypse isn't just talking trash when he says he intends to bring a reign of darkness to PWR, pulverizing Panzer with a variety of foreign objects, including a steel chair, a baseball bat, some kendo sticks, and a fluorescent rod he smashed over Panzer's back, leaving him with an 18-inch long gash that reportedly required emergency medical attention and multiple stitches after the match.

    Let's be honest though: in the moment, that particular spot was thrilling to behold, and introduced a novel new texture to PWR's own brand of orchestrated violence. But as the match went on, the blood became uncomfortable to behold, especially as Panzer's battered body started smearing it all over the ring ropes and mat. Mercifully, a single Death Bell was enough to put the D-Town Fight Machine out of his misery for the night.

    There's nobody in PWR today who can match the animal brutality of PWR's own Masked Darkness, that's for sure. He decimated the beloved Beer Promdi tag team of Mark D. Manalo and Kanto Terror not that long ago, and with another fan favorite left a bloody mess, he just put the whole company's roster on notice. Whoever thinks they can handle the unholy challenge of this man had better take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask what he's willing to put on the line for greatness.

    Result: The Apocalypse defeats Chris Panzer by pinfall

    Twinning Means Winning

    You know who's great? The goddamn YOLO freakin' Twins, that's who.

    Yohann and Logan Ollores are radiating with charisma, timing, athleticism, and talent, and the match that saw them emerge as the first team to defeat Beer Promdi in tag competition made believers out of all of us.

    From the stereo suicide dives both men pulled onto their overmatched foes outside the ring, to their beautifully crisp superkick fiesta and One Night Stand elevated jumping reverse STO finisher, it's a joy seeing them work. Manalo and Kanto Terror may be natural showmen with tons of heart, but even their best attempts at offense (notably Manalo's crazy inside-out Blue Thunder Bomb) couldn't slow down the twins.

    We also saw a wonderful evolution in the characters of the YOLO Twins; from being generic "twin magic" switch artists, both men showed off nice character flourishes to give more depth and identity to each one. Yohann is the steadier, more mature of the pair, directing traffic for the team and strategizing the in-ring action. Logan, on the other hand, seems to be the more hot-headed, impetuous one, nearly bursting into tears with each frustrating near-fall early on, driving the crowd to start chanting "Iiyak na yan! Iiyak na yan!"

    It was this difference in personality that gave the match its interesting close; Logan initially looked to have the match won after calling Yohann in for the One Night Stand on Manalo, only to yank Manalo's shoulders up to break the pin and force a submission via a Figure Four Leglock. These are men who don't just want to win; they want to emasculate their foes on their way to fame and fortune.

    They're fucking spoiled brats, but we'll happily strap in for the ride. #YOLO4TagChamps2017

    Could this be the end of the road for Beer Promdi though? The two were true cornerstones of PWR early on, blazing to pulsating wins in their early days. But with their recent hiccups, including an absolute decimation at the hands of The Apocalypse, and now a seeming fractured kneecap by Mark D. Manalo that has him on the injured list for at least the next six to eight months, it might be safe to say that the tag team scene has passed them by.

    Result: YOLO Twins defeat Beer Promdi via submission

    Tier 3: Vigan Longganisa (Inoffensively Good, Not A Showstopper)

    Know anyone who hates the garlicky longganisa variant made famous by the town of Vigan? We don't. It's the B+ player of the longganisa world, inoffensive at best, pedestrian at worst, and not necessarily something people get all passionate about. Sonsi makes some of the best Vigan longganisa we've ever had (and believe us, we've had a lot of the stuff in our lives), but it just doesn't incite riots like some other stuff on the menu.

    Here's where we'll rank the matches that were good, satisfying filler, but failed to break through to elite level.

    Photo via FoodSpotting.com

    The Ralph Collapse Continues

    Who could have seen this coming?

    We predicted that 2016 would be the Ralph Imabayashi Era of PWR, and who could blame us after the scintillating Triple Threat victory he had at last December's Terminus to claim the PWR Championship for the very first time, followed up by a shocking defense against The Apocalypse at the January show?

    But since then, Ralph Imabayashi's career has been a brown, smelly skidmark on a tattered pair of bacon briefs. His losing streak since losing the PWR Championship now stands at a near-record six straight losses, putting him on the cusp of the most historically-bad run in the company. We all thought his singles match against James "Idol" Martinez was going to be the kind of softball match he needed to rediscover his winning ways. After all, we don't know what state of mind Martinez is in after his humiliating Jaccolade-flavored feud-ending loss to Rederick Mahaba some months ago.

    But then again, I suppose we all should know that Martinez is never a foe to be taken lightly. Heck, you could probably call the guy the uncrowned king of PWR, owning victories over two of the three men who have held the PWR Championship in both Jake De Leon and now Ralph Imabayashi.

    Obviously, Martinez's win came via nefarious means, suckering his Fil-Japanese opponent under the ring, from where Imabayashi was unable to emerge and beat the referee's ten-count, leading to a countout win for the self-declared Top of the Pyramid. PWR officials later discovered a hog-tied Imabayashi trapped under the apron, the apparent victim of a sneak mugging by a new member of The Network, a smug, scarf-wearing douche apparently named Alexander Belmonte III.

    The Network's fight strategy has consistently been to swarm by numbers, and Imabayashi is now more debris by the wayside. Perhaps he should have taken them up on their offer to endorse some King Kong Kangkong. The former PWR Champion was uncharacteristically cautious throughout the match, wrestling at a more measured pace than what we're used to seeing. No top-rope Bionic Elbows this time around—just a dropkick party and a couple of failed Sonic Crusher attempts. Could Imabayashi be suffering a crisis of confidence?

    We sorely missed Martinez's pre-match promos as well. The man is magnetic on the microphone, but hasn't had the opportunity to show off his verbal skills lately. Idol is at his best when he's flaunting his world-class ego and wit to berate both the crowd and his opponents, and a silent Idol is a castrated Idol. Let him speak, PWR management.

    Result: James "Idol" Martinez defeats Ralph Imabayashi via countout

    Sausage Party

    The two resident loverboys of PWR came to blows, with "The Jack of All Babes" Peter Versoza going up against "The Intimate Warrior" Rederick Mahaba. It was a clash of styles, with the aerial artistry and all-world agility of Versoza matched up against Mahaba's power-based, plodding offense.

    We know both men are both nifty performers and born showmen. The magic Mahaba creates with the crowd is a thing to behold live, while Versoza is a natural jerk who draws boos for his swagger as easily as he does gasps for his highlight-reel moves.

    But this particular match seemed to feel flatter than the stellar showings both men have put on in the past. Frankly, the crowd seemed more entertained by their recurring "Pete Ver-sau-sage! *CLAP CLAP CLAPCLAPCLAP*" chant than they did by the in-ring action. Versoza's Petegree-Swanton Bomb combo to finish the match seemed like more of a mercy killing than anything else.

    If it sounds like we're ragging on both dudes, we're not. They're both fabulous wrestlers and true stars. But we've seen better from them before, and were slightly let down that we didn't see them shine even brighter on this one night.

    Result: Peter Versoza defeats Rederick Mahaba via pinfall

    New Visitors to Barangay Suplex

    Dax Xaviera and Dan Ericson of Delirium might struck first-time viewers as generic high-energy athletic studs without much personality, but that doesn't mean they can't put on a show. The two are possibly the best physical specimens in PWR today, and showed off some precision double-teaming moves that showed that the Philippine Wrestling Revolution takes tag team wrestling seriously. The Boot of Doom they pulled off on Joey Bax was decent, and had those in attendance half-convinced an upset was in the making.

    You can't teach veteran savvy though, and on this night, the Fighters 4 Hire were too tough and rugged to go down to a pair of rooks. Both men seemed a bit bored on this evening, with "Ruthless" Miguel Rosales (who we're all immense fanboys of) toning down his Barangay Suplex onslaught, and Bax taking an even more methodical approach than usual. A sloppy double spinebuster was enough for the two bruising mercenaries to take home the 'W,' and to be honest, that was a bit of a relief.

    We're more intrigued however by the simmering tension between PWR's resident kupal, "The Walking Death" Mike Madrigal, who's been dogging Joey Bax for months now. Let's see who the swaggering newcomer brings in as his mystery partner to answer F4H's post-match challenge for PWR Live: Suplex Sunday next month.

    Result: Fighters 4 Hire defeat Delirium via pinfall

    Tier 4: Kropek

    Photo by Mac Centeno
    Let this be said: Sonsi makes the best damn kropek in the country. Sorry Chowking.

    But having said that - it's still just kropek. Not exactly a filling meal, and just something to mindlessly munch on while waiting for the main event to hit your table. Here's where will drop some quick thoughts about the pre-show talents that strutted their stuff before the main roster took back the spotlight.

    Vlad Sinnsyk

    Legitimately creepy kick-your-teeth-in basher who owned the unique distinction of taking home two wins in one night against the burly Trabajador Tres and the even burlier Vintendo. The guy may be raw, but he's oozing with charisma and some good in-ring presence. We can't wait to see him drop more jabronis with his trademark Muscle Buster and running lariat in the future.


    Nobody ever claimed the Fighting Gamer was lazy. He's clearly been putting in tons of work at the gym, and is looking both leaner and more mobile in the ring. Having said that, the guy still can't seem to buy a win. The Philadelphia 76ers taught us all to "trust the process," but to be honest, we have no idea how this completely winless gladiator can escape being the Glass Joe of his batch.

    "The Walking Death" Mike Madrigal

    What. A. Jerk. This guy is perhaps the most unlikable character in all of PWR, from dishing out middle fingers to both crowd and foe, his endless trash-talking, his self-absorbed swagger, and how he's always looking to pick a fight. But he can go. His Go To Sleep is genuinely one of our favorite finishers in PWR so far, and if can get a bit more seasoning under his belt, he'll be storming the main event in the near future.


    A crowd-pleaser and an earnest charmer, she's still got a long way to go before being able to own the main event scene the way fellow female grappler Crystal has - but she's certainly on the right path. Clearly a fan of the Hardyz with her rainbow-dyed hair, cargo gear, arm sleeves, and in-ring style, let's see which trajectory she ultimately takes: Jeff Hardy's crash-and-burn tumble from the spotlight, or the steady, stellar rise of "Broken" Matt.


    Renaissance primed us all with a tantalizing vision of greatness, and as a whole, it delivered. With a final match rating tally of three platters each of inihaw na bacon, Cebu chorizo, and Vigan longganisa, and four saucers of kropek, we got a pretty darned good, well-balanced feast in a kick-ass new venue.

    Photo via Our Awesome Planet

    The Unilab Bayanihan Center was a beautiful, well-lit venue that showed how far PWR has come since its grungy ghetto beginnings in the old Makati Square Arena just over two years ago.

    Overall, it was a show that might have lacked the memorable stunts and spots from last May's Wrevolution X, but more than made up for it with some amazing storytelling, intriguing new rivalries, and an in-ring product that's getting more and more polished each day.
    The Philippine Wrestling Revolution is clearly on the rise, and could very well remain to be the only local wrestling game in town, with the rumored behind-the-scenes stumbles going on at the Manila Wrestling Federation.

    We're still far from perfection, fight fans, but that's fine. So long as the men and women of PWR keep shooting for the stars, all of us fans will be in a good place, and trusting them to discover the ultimate definition of greatness.

    Singles Star of the Night: Main Maxx

    Tag Team Stars of the Night: The YOLO Twins

    Match of the Night: Crystal vs. Main Maxx

    Moment of the Night: Mr. Sy's pipebomb


    For more information about the Philippine Wrestling Revolution, like their official Facebook page and give their website a visit. PWR Live: Suplex Sunday is happening November 13, Sunday, at 2PM at the Unilab Bayanihan Center.

    Sonsi House of Longganisa is located at unit 4B of Madison Square Complex on Pioneer, Mandaluyong City. Estimate a budget of P200 per head for a decent meal.

    All wrestling photos are by the beautiful and talented Hub Pacheco
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    Item Reviewed: PWR Renaissance 2016: The Official Smark Henry Review Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Unknown
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