LOS ANGELES – A normal hotel Thursday morning, the atmosphere began to change at the LAX Hilton by Thursday night as fans and wrestlers started to check in for WrestleReunion 5. Despite winter storms in the Northeast, talents made it to the hotel with few problems. There was “Superstar” Billy Graham saying hello to people in the lobby and a number of talents milling about. WWE star Edge was staying in the hotel as well. Although not a convention guest, the current WWE World Champion was happy to sign and take pictures with anyone.
Wrestlereunion promoters made a point of offering things for the VIP ticketholders to do on Friday. Things kicked off at 10:00 a.m. with VIP ticketholder events. The first event of WrestleReunion 5 was a fan Q&A with ROH owner Cary Silken and producer Dave Lagana. Hosted by Jimmy Hart, the pair fielded questions from fans on the end of TV on HDNet, favorite ROH moments, and the future of the company. ROH stars Colt Cabana and Christopher Daniels were in attendance and added their own comments as well.
Cabana was back at noon to do a live version of his Art of Wrestling podcast. Cabana had the crowd in stitches. In talking with guest Shane Helms, Cabana, after nothing he had “done his research” then confused Helms’ Green Lantern tattoo with a hurricane, and a promo that launched the Hurricane character he said was with Steve Austin with The Rock. The resulting chastising from the audience and Helms was entertaining. The broadcast wrapped with a giveaway featuring Curry Man reading match descriptions from Wrestling’s 101 Strangest Matches by Oliver Hurley. Fans who were able to correctly guess the wrestlers walked away with shirts, DVDs, and copies of the book. I haven’t listened to Cabana’s podcast before but after seeing the result, I’m going to make a point of doing so.
The final VIP event was a roundtable discussion from Geekweek.com, put on by former WCW staffer turned Hollywood producer Jeff Katz. Katz, who produced films like Freddy vs. Jason and Wolverine discussed changes to the business with Mike Graham, Jimmy Hart, Helms, and Christopher Daniels.
At last year’s event, photos were taken with the guests in plain clothing. Those photos will once again be available this year, but additionally “Deluxe Photo Ops” are being offered. The photos started early in the afternoon poolside with Stacey “The Kat” Carter and Alicia “Ryan Shamrock” Webb clad in bikinis. Later in-ring photos were taken with Shane Helms in full Hurricane gear, Shane Douglas in a “Franchise” shirt and the ECW title, and Terry Funk complete with branding iron. It was a double-treat for many of the fans getting to stand inside a ring for the first time next to their heroes. Not surprisingly Funk was the most popular photo, and took a moment to talk to each fan.
With the interactions done for the day, WrestleReunion staff were able to let Ring of Honor take over. WR promoter Sal Corrente thanked the crowd for attending and announced that WrestleReunion will return next January to Los Angeles. The Kings of Wrestling (Chris Hero and Claudio Castignoli) hit the ring and cut a promo on the crowd and their opponents — Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin.
ROH kicked things off with a tag team match as The Bravado Brothers defeated Kaleb Konley & Cedric Alexander. Colt Cabana faced Jay Briscoe in their first singles match, which is remarkable considering both have been with the company for most of its near nine-year history. Briscoe caught Cabana with the Jay-driller to win.
Some local flavor was featured, much to the delight of L.A. fans, as Brandon and Dustin Cutler made an impressive debut against Rex Titus and Kenny King. The Cutlers may not have earned a win, but I would suspect they earned another opportunity to wrestle in ROH.
Another two wrestlers with local flavor, Davey Richards and TJ Perkins, put on a fantastic wrestling clinic. The two wrestled many times on the west coast in the past, and their familiarity with each other had both fans and wrestlers such as Shane Helms in the audience rise to their feet. After many attempts to make Perkins submit, Richards was finally able to connect with a falcon arrow and lock on an armbar for the win.
After an intermission, Christopher Daniels defended the ROH TV title against Mark Briscoe. For the first time in several years, Allison Danger accompanied Daniels to the ring. Another in a string of great matches in the second half of the show, the two had several near falls before Daniels hit the Best Moonsault Ever to retain the title.
I haven’t yet seen the New York City bout between ROH Tag Team Champions Claudio Castignoli and Chris Hero and Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas. I was told that the match was amazing, and if their L.A. match was any comparison then the hype is true. Benjamin and Haas came out with something to prove and did so in front of a rabid crowd. Haas and Benjamin came up short in New York, but tied it up with a win in the non-title match, setting up a title bout in the future, which Haas promised would result in them winning the belts.
Trying to follow the tag match is a challenge that few would be able to pull off, and it fell to ROH champion Roderick Strong and challenger El Generico. Several times during the match it seemed like Generico would walk out with the title, but Strong ensured it wasn’t to be. He tossed a chair into the ring and as the referee was disposing of it, smashed Generico in the face with the belt, a kick, and a Gibson-driver (double-underhook powerbomb) to retain the title. Perhaps Generico will have better luck tonight when he challenges PWG Heavyweight Champion Claudio Castignoli.
WrestleReunion is off to a great start. Many of the bugs from last year were smoothed out which kept the VIPs busy throughout the day. Things are going to be crazy today with Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff and Jake Roberts taking photos. Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, which last year turned away several hundred fans, is expected to do so again with a card featuring Jake Roberts’ retirement match against Sinn Bodhei, Shane Helms against Joey Ryan, and a battle royal featuring many of the legends that are guests this weekend.