This week on Monday Night Raw, Roman Reigns was forced to vacate the Universal Title due to his leukemia coming back. That’s going to jump to the top of the list of biggest stories of the year, but I’m not going to talk about it this week for two reasons. First of all, that’s the kind of thing that needs some time to process in my head and that’s going to take more than a few days. Second, doing a tribute to him or talking about how much he means makes it sound like he’s gone or that his career is over, which isn’t the case. I want Reigns back in the ring ASAP and he can beat this. We’ll talk about Reigns when he’s back healthy.
Instead, we’re going to talk about a good wrestling promotion that doesn’t get the kind of attention that it deserves. That would be Major League Wrestling, which has been going for…well officially about sixteen years, though there was a fourteen or so year hiatus in the middle. For the sake of sanity, we’ll ignore the original incarnation.
The modern version of Major League Wrestling came back in late 2017 with a series of one off shows held in Orlando, Florida. The show’s biggest drawing card was arguably its announcer, as the promotion brought in the former voice of WCW Tony Schiavone to handle play by play. That alone is worth checking out, if nothing else to hear a voice that hasn’t been around in so long talking about modern wrestlers (it’s a heck of a trip if you’re an old WCW fan).
The shows were well received and within less than a year, the promotion announced a television deal, with a series called Fusion airing every Friday night on beIN Sports (though the show is also available at the promotion’s YouTube page). The idea of the show is a mixture (a fusion if you will) of various styles, including brawling, submission, lucha libre, technical wrestling and others. It’s not the most original gimmick in the world, but that’s where the promotion gets its strength.Fusion isn’t a show that reinvents the wheel or does anything that hasn’t been done on a grander stage before. Instead, it takes names you probably know and mixed them in with names that you’ve probably never heard of before. Those names are then put into pretty well thought out and put together stories, which makes for a compelling TV show week to week. They also build up to big shows down the line, which are often broken up into regular episodes of television.
Now, while that doesn’t sound like anything great, it sounds like something more important: it sounds like something that makes sense. The show has rarely done anything that makes me scratch my head or wonder what the heck they’re doing. Instead, you can see where the logical stories are going while also having some surprise moments that will keep you wondering what’s next.
So what do they build towards? Well of course you have your big time title matches, which are the hall mark of most wrestling shows. However, MLW offers some bigger matches for its bigger shows, such as the Battle Riot (basically a forty man Royal Rumble with legends, current stars and surprises) or WarGames, which is the old style of four on four, albeit without a top to the cage. I miss having a roof on the thing too, but there’s nothing wrong with a good old WarGames match, and I was excited to hear about it when the company first announced it was taking place.The key thing though is they allow these shows to be built up without focusing entirely on them. Look at any WWE show and you’ll see what a problem it can be when a pay per view match is announced. For the next several weeks, that’s going to be beaten into your head to the point where you’re almost sick of hearing about it by the time we get there. MLW has found a very nice balance of hyping up matches and shows without going overboard. Fusion will feature a regular control center, but you also get old school promos related to the big matches (as in backstage and not bringing people to the ring) and stand alone matches.
Let’s go back to the roster and some of the names you see pretty weekly. Starting with the better known ones, you have such names as the Lucha Bros, Jake Hager (Jack Swagger), Konnan, Simon Gotch (who is much more interesting than he was as a strongman), Joey Ryan and Colonel Robert Parker. Yes THAT Colonel Robert Parker, who has turned out to be one of the better managers in the promotion.
However, he’s not the best manager in the promotion and that’s one of three people who deserves a spotlight of their own. First up is the awesome manager Salina de la Renta. At just 21 years old, de la Renta is one of the best heel managers I’ve seen in a good while. She runs the local heel stable Promociones Dorado, the catch all group for most of the evil luchadors on the show.
De la Renta is one of those villains where she may not seem like much on the surface but you know there’s something behind the evil smile. It makes for some very impressive showings and she’s become the star of the show in a way. She’s regularly representing some villain in a match and her being in their corner makes the show feel that much bigger. Thing a taller Zelina Vega, just toned down enough to be intimidating.The other main villain on the show is Tom Lawlor, who has come out of the UFC and wound up being a natural heel wrestler. He wrestles an MMA styles (kind of obvious) but has run through the entire roster, including surviving most of the first Battle Riot to become #1 contender. The nickname Filthy fits him well, as there are times where it looked like he hasn’t taken a shower in a few weeks.
The reason Lawlor works so well is he’s the kind of guy that no one can beat. His MMA stuff gives him a feeling of legitimacy and he knows how to wrestle a good enough standard style to balance it out. While I’m not sure how well something like this would work in WWE as they would try to make it more complicated than necessary, it’s perfect for a place like MLW.Finally there’s Shane Strickland and simply put, I’ll be stunned if he’s not on the WWE roster in a few years. This guy comes off as one of the most natural wrestling talents you’ve seen in a long time with a good look and a very natural feeling. He wrestles more of a hybrid style with a little bit of everything mixed in.
It was clear that MLW saw something in Strickland and was going to push him from the very beginning. He won the main event of the first MLW return show by pinning Ricochet clean and then went on to become the first MLW World Champion by defeating Tom Riddle. That’s more than enough to be a star, and Strickland has that it factor that is going to take him a long way.
There’s a lot to like about MLW and it’s the kind of show that is really easy to watch. They don’t do huge things, but I’d much rather watch something simple that is done well than something big that is done poorly. That’s where MLW has found its niche, and that’s why I’ve started having more fun watching it than most other promotions.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the the Complete 2003 Smackdown Reviews.
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