On the day that poet Louise Gluck died and WWE filed an injunction against Panini, on Friday, October 13, 2023, I drove to HYPE Athletics in Warren, Michigan to attend The Hart of the Matter, a fundraising event and wrestling show presented by Zach Gowen’s Champion for a Cause Promotions. The cause for this evening’s gathering was the Fredi the Pizzaman Foundation, which, according to the event’s Facebook page, builds “sensory rooms in public schools, creating safe spaces for students with autism to learn, grow, and thrive.” Of course, the live professional wrestling was what ultimately drew me to the event, but the Fredi the Pizzaman Foundation is a worthy and noble cause, so I was more than happy to buy a ticket, as well as contribute an additional donation towards a raffle.
It was a clear, crisp fall evening, so my roughly 20 minute drive to Wayne, Michigan was an enjoyable commute. Not long before I reached my destination, the scent of wood smoke filled the air, but it wasn’t simply another autumn bonfire. Suddenly I realized I was driving past the massive Michigan Assembly Plant, where striking UAW members picketing along Michigan Avenue were burning wood to keep themselves warm. The people in line outside HYPE Athletics, however, were standing out in the cold, waiting for the doors to open. Being that I had purchased a third row, reserved seat, and I wasn’t there for the pre-show meet and greet, I decided to wait in my car until the line began to move.
Apparently, the man in a Jeep 4×4 parked in front of me had a similar idea, but while I was satisfied waiting in my warm car in relative silence, this guy decided to roll down his windows and blare Bret the Hitman Hart’s theme song on repeat. The biggest draw for many in attendance that night was the titular Hart in The Hart of the Matter. Bret Hart was doing a pre-show meet and greet, so many of the people in line were wearing various pink and black Hart merchandise. There was even one man in full Hart cosplay. From a distance, it almost looked like a younger Hart was transported in a time machine to wait in line to take a selfie with his older self.
When the line began to move, it was slow but steady. I don’t think the staff was prepared for how many people would come, but the organizers announced they wouldn’t start the show until everyone in line got in, so there was surprisingly little grumbling or complaining. Overall, what I observed was a very happy crowd, with lots of families and small children, which was a nice change of scenery. It didn’t look or feel like the typical independent wrestling crowd. It was advertised that this would be “Family-Friendly Fun for Everyone,” so maybe that kept most of the ghouls away (present company excluded).
Once inside the venue, a multi-sport facility, based upon the basketball hoops hanging from the ceiling and the hockey glass surrounding the floor, I noticed that the ring setup looked more professional than most of the indie shows I’ve attended. I was downright impressed with their wrestling ring with neon pink ropes, their professional lighting rigs, and even their ramp. It made me wonder where all of this had come from, because I hadn’t noticed anything like it at any of the Michigan indie shows I’ve attended in the past. There were also some large replica dinosaurs tucked away in the corner, which I had also never seen at a wrestling show before.
The event began shortly before 8pm, and after some introductory comments about the various sponsors for the evening, the ring announcer introduced Bret Hart, and the Warren, Michigan crowd gave the Hitman a resounding welcome. Hart graciously thanked the crowd and the sponsors and briefly reflected on his time wrestling in the Detroit area, specifically the Hart Foundation versus the British Bulldogs at WrestleMania 3, then he departed for the evening.
After that, the in-ring action officially began with the tag team of Gavin Quinn and Juntai against the Motor City Machine Guns, Impact World Champion Alex Shelley and X Division Champion Chris Sabin, who received a hearty hometown welcome. This was the first time I’d seen MCMG in-person since they each won their current Impact titles, and it felt good to see them strapped up. Even in a non-televised match such as this, Shelly and Sabin took it to Quinn and Juntai with lots of fast-paced, high flying action, and when Shelley and Sabin emphatically won their match, the crowd cheered with appreciation.
The Hart of the Matter began with possibly two of the biggest draws of the night, Bret Hart and the Motor City Machine Guns, so I was curious to see how they’d keep the action moving, and the next match pitted Xavier Walker against Krimson. I wasn’t familiar with Walker, but he’s an impressive specimen. Thanks to the internet, I learned that he’s a Flint, Michigan native, trained by Truth Martini, and that he’s a Glory Pro Wrestling regular. Walker has the size and personality fit for primetime, but tonight he was up against Krimson. I had also never heard of Krimson, but it looks like he’s had a long in-ring career that goes back to 2000. While Walker is a large, athletic, and flamboyant wrestler, Krimson is a masked horror character who started the match by spitting red (or crimson) mist into the air, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Krimson finished the match by spitting red mist into the face of Walker and pinning him for the three count, yet the crowd reacted with outrage and disgust.
This was an energetic crowd who booed the bad guys and cheered for the good guys, and this would continue into the next match when “The Genetic Jackpot” Joe Coleman faced Jake Something. Coleman and Something are two more Michigan natives with lengthy independent careers. Coleman is definitely the more colorful of the two, so while I’d seen Coleman get booed and jeered in other indie matches, his gimmick went over well here with the kids. Something is one of the first Michigan independent wrestlers I’d ever seen wrestle live and in-person, so even though he was my favorite of the two, he was easy to boo in this pairing. Something has always been a large man, but in recent years, he’s become a real beast, so it’s easy to see why he was one of the wrestlers chosen to portray Bruiser Brody for his episode of Dark Side of the Ring. Something manhandled Coleman for most of this match, but Coleman scored the pinfall with a rollup, and the crowd went wild. After the match, Coleman extended his hand to Something, Something swung and missed on Coleman, and Coleman laid out Something in the middle of the ring. On his way out, Coleman high-fived two kids sitting in front of me, and the kids reacted like they had just touched a god. You love to see it.
After this, it was time for a little break from the action. The ring announcer introduced Fredi the Pizzaman and Fox 2 Detroit’s Brandon Hudson for an in-ring interview about the evening’s cause, raising money to build sensory rooms in public schools. However, the interview didn’t go on for too long before it was interrupted by none other than Truth Martini, followed by a trio of wrestlers, Aaron Orion and two other fellas with Matthias and Reynolds on the back of their trunks. Martini proceeded to cut a promo on Fredi the Pizzaman, who he accused of pocketing the “dough” from his charity, and Fox 2’s Hudson, for being “fake” news. It was easy, cheap heat, and the crowd ate it up, but it wasn’t long before the Handicapped Heroes, Zach Gowen and Gregory Iron intervened, and we had an unannounced trios match between Martini’s Orion, Matthias, and Reynolds, and Gowen, Iron, and Fox 2’s Hudson, who was sporting a blue singlet under his street clothes. The last time I’d seen Iron in action, he was soaked in blood and being slammed through a pane of glass in a GCW ring, so it was good to see him here as a natural babyface, and Gowen always impresses with his one-legged moonsault. Martini did an impressive over the top rope bump for a man who I thought was retired with a neck injury, and even Hudson got in some convincing moves. Of course, the team of Gowen, Iron, and Hudson came out victorious, and then they broke for intermission.
The first match back from intermission was an unannounced “Zombie Princess” Jimmy Jacobs versus Ren Jones. Jacobs, of course, is a Michigan indie legend and a current producer for AEW, so it was great to see him back in a local event like this, in a presumably heel role, nonetheless. I wasn’t familiar with Jones, but he is the current Clash Wrestling Champion and was an immediate crowd favorite. Jacobs effectively played the smarmy, sh#tty heel to Jones’ boisterous babyface, and the crowd was behind Jones one hundred percent. Of course, Jacobs received a smattering of ironic cheers from the fans in attendance who were aware of his past work, but for the most part, Jacobs took a convincing beating from Jones, who earned the one, two, three.
Next up was the penultimate match, for the Clash Wrestling Women’s Championship, between Clash Women’s Champion Allysin Kay and her challenger, Hamilton, Ontario’s Taylor Rising. Kay is considerably bigger than Rising, so she pretty easily overpowered her opponent for most of the match, but Rising wasn’t afraid to take it to the ropes, as well as pull out a 619, in an attempt to become the new Clash Women’s Champion. At one point, a few people in attendance oddly began to chant “USA, USA,” being that Kay is billed from Detroit while Rising is Canadian, but thankfully this went over like a fart in church. Aside from Rising, Bret Hart was the only other person from Canada that I knew of, on the card that night, but Canada isn’t exactly a rival to Michigan, and Rising had more babyface appeal than Kay, so the lame attempt at a “patriotic” chant was a weird choice. Either way, Kay pinned Rising and retained her Clash Championship, and after the match the ring announcer promoted Clash’s upcoming event, Clash and Burn, on Saturday, November 4 in Allen Park, Michigan.
At last, it was time for our main event of the evening. The ring announcer exclaimed this would be a contest for the brand new Blackwell Ford Championship, which he promptly dropped in the middle of the ring, to an ovation of boos and laughter. He apologized on mic and admitted it was a real rookie mistake, and Zach Gowen came back out to save face and provide a little good natured ribbing, saying to the ring announcer what Gowen said Vince McMahon said to him twenty years ago, “You’re fired!” After that brief comedic interlude, they got back to business and announced the challengers in the main event, “The Dearborn Destroyer” Karam and “The Man Beast” Rhyno. Rhyno was the obvious favorite in this match up, due to name recognition alone, but Karam is one of my favorite current indie Michigan pro wrestlers, and I was glad that he received this spot in the main event. Not unlike Jake Something, I’ve seen Karam wrestle in a variety of Michigan indie matches for multiple promotions over the years, and he is always a sight to behold. Karam cuts an imposing figure, but funny enough, after he recently made a small tweak to his appearance and cut and dyed his hair, I think he looks better than ever. For those who don’t know, Karam has made recent appearances for GCW and EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch, and I think he would be a great addition to NXT, AEW, or Impact.
With that said, this match started in pretty typical big man fashion, with Karam and Rhyno exchanging big, clubbing blows and tests of strength, until they eventually took it outside the ring, and Rhyno hit Karam with a chair. The match hadn’t previously been announced as hardcore or no disqualification or anything like that, but maybe that just goes without saying when it’s a Rhyno match, because the referee didn’t stop the match, and Rhyno and Karam continued to battle outside the ring. As the two beat on each other throughout the venue, they passed the big replica dinosaurs, and I was a little disappointed that they didn’t get involved somehow, but they did make use of the hockey glass, which made for a satisfying crash as they made impact with it. Rhyno and Karam fought it out up and through the bleachers, and then came back down the other side, until they made it back to the ring. The crowd began to chant for tables, and this chant caught on, so Rhyno responded by pulling out a table from underneath the ring. There were a few more minutes of back and forth action, until Rhyno set up a table in the corner of the ring, then Rhyno gored Karam through the table, and Rhyno pinned Karam and was crowned the inaugural Blackwell Ford Champion. It was completely ridiculous and I absolutely loved it.
I promptly left after that, while most people in attendance stuck around to hear who won the various raffles, making for a quick and easy exit, which I can always appreciate, and as I passed the Michigan Assembly Plant on my way back, the UAW members were still out on the street, picketing in the cold, rainy, October night. The Hart of the Matter was a fun, positive night for a great cause that highlighted the deep past and exciting future of Michigan professional wrestling, and I hope they make it an annual event.