REVIEW: “Tetsujin is F’ing Dead” feat. Jordan Devlin vs. Timothy Thatcher

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REVIEW: “Tetsujin is F’ing Dead” feat. Jordan Devlin vs. Timothy Thatcher

By: Mark Buckeldee

On Friday 22nd November 2019, Tetsujin held their third and final show, running in the Fairfield Social Club in Manchester, England. Tetsujin is a British shoot style/hybrid wrestling promotion that runs one-off events to showcase shoot-style wrestling to British fans. In mainland Europe, shoot style is well represented by wXw’s Ambition tournaments. This show was clearly Tetsujin’s best show due to both the variety and the quality of the matches. I would go further and say that this show also had Tetsujin’s best match ever. The question was, which match?

This show, provocatively named “Tetsujin is F’ing Dead”, was a very good show where nothing outstayed it’s welcome. The first half of the show was designed to showcase younger wrestlers from the UK, Ireland, and Germany. The opener, wXw’s Veit Muller vs Dragon Pro’s Jay Joshua, was a hard-hitting and bruising affair with Joshua hitting some nasty kicks. Ireland’s Michael May, one of the best mat wrestlers in Ireland, faced Jordon Breaks. Breaks is a wrestler whose World of Sport influences are clear to see in both his style and his name. This was a short but great match full of counter holds with Breaks focusing less on flashy escapology and more on trying to prevent May from beating him. Dragon Pro’s Danny Jones vs OTT’s Scotty Davis was good but probably my least favorite match on the show, partly due to an over-reliance on ankle pick takedowns.

The second half was focussed on matches from more established names on the European scene. Dan Moloney vs Alexander Dean, replacing Mark Haskins who had to pull out, was a good showing for both men. Fight Club Pro’s Moloney adapted well, showing his growth this year as a more flexible performer. I’ve never seen Dean before but the little things here in how he worked, and how he sold the match-winning ankle lock afterward, made me want to see more of him. Next was Tetsujin’s first and only women’s match, pitting 20-year-old Dani Luna against 19-year-old Millie McKenzie. This was a great showing, full of intensity and aggression. They did a great job of adapting to the style, in part due to the fact that they are both known for big suplexes. This had an edge that many of the matches before it was missing and a great finish where Luna capitalized on a momentarily dazed McKenzie to deliver vicious forearms to her opponents unguarded head to force the referee stoppage. This was the first knock out of the show and the match was one of the best performances I’ve seen from either of them this year.

The semi-main event saw David Starr face off against A-Kid, the young face of the Spanish wrestling scene. A-Kid won the last wXw Ambition tournament when he beat Daniel Makabe with a Spanish Fly into a submission. The “shoot Spanish fly” is now infamous for generating equal amounts of mirth, bemusement, and rage. In comparison, Starr never made the finals in his three Ambition appearances. Despite that, his match with Zack Sabre Jr at Tetsujin’s second show was the promotions best match before this event. This was a great match, starting with really good hold-based wrestling before frustration turned to anger, which turned into a more aggressive match. A-Kid gained the advantage with a brilliant knee strike counter reminiscent of the one that Yoshihiro Takayama loved to use against Shinsuke Nakamura. He also teased a “shoot Frankensteiner” of all things but eventually, Starr countered a triangle choke into a powerbomb onto the knee and lariated A-Kid into oblivion for the knock-out win. This is the kind of match that we want to see more of from A-Kid, and hopefully being under an NXT UK contract doesn’t limit his opportunities for growth.

There was nothing bad on this show, with most complaints really coming down to the repetition of spots like dueling leg locks or similar escapes to triangle holds across multiple matches. Not to do a disservice to Millie McKenzie vs Dani Luna or David Starr vs A-Kid but the show will be best remembered for two superb matches: Ethan Allen vs Luke Jacobs and Timothy Thatcher vs Jordan Devlin. The question is, which was better?

On paper, these matches couldn’t be more different. Allen and Jacobs, 18 and 19 years old respectively, are both young Manchester locals early in their careers. They train together and, as the Young Guns, are already one of the best tag teams in the UK. This was two wrestlers with an opportunity to show that they can do this style and show just how good they are. In contrast, Thatcher is twice as old as Allen. Devlin and Thatcher are world travelers, men who have held major titles in the biggest promotions in Europe, with over 13 years of experience. This was two veterans, having their 2nd ever singles match, with Devlin stepping into Thatcher’s world.

Allen vs Jacobs was a match with no real stakes. Instead of stakes, it was an opportunity, one that the combatants made the most of. The crowd was heavily invested in these two, feeling like an audience that was very familiar with them. It felt like a local crowd compares to the first shows the audience of unsure hardcore fans and the second shows large contingent of what appeared to be traveling Fight Club Pro fans. The crowd was vocal throughout this match and gave added energy to the wrestlers. The match itself was vicious, hard-hitting and incredibly aggressive. They used the limited toolset of shoot style and pushed themselves to the limit. The technical exchanges were very good, but the striking was what stood out. Both guys laid it in, fuelling the feeling of intensity and brutality. They got more and more desperate as the match went on, while still pulling out moves like Allen’s beautiful double arm suplex and a Northern Lights Bomb from Jacobs. Jacobs delivered one of the nastiest looking kicks to the face that I’ve seen in a long time. The crowd was fully invested by the end and many in attendance declared it as the match of the night. This match, less than 11 minutes long, will be on their highlight reels for years to come. If Allen & Jacobs are not main event stars in the UK wrestling scene by 2022 then something will have gone seriously wrong.

For me though, the match of the night honors must go to Thatcher vs Devlin. Shoot style matches can fall into the trap of being exhibitions. You could argue that the Ambition Super-fight between Thatcher and Yuki Ishikawa during the 2019 wXw 16 Carat weekend was an example of this. Making Thatcher vs Devlin a match for the wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship may feel like it telegraphed the result to an extent, but I think that it helped focus the match and erased the temptation to become an exhibition instead of a fight.

This style of match plays into Thatcher’s strengths. It is his forte, it almost feels like Thatcher’s raison d’etre is to champion and showcase this style of wrestling. To my knowledge, this is not a specialty of Devlin. The only significant links I can see in his in-ring career would be his time in Zero-1, where the BattlARTS trained Ikuto Hidaka plied his trade. It would be reasonable for many wrestlers to struggle to adapt to this style or to go with the flow and follow Thatcher’s lead. Devlin isn’t many wrestlers, he’s one of the best in the world. We’ve seen him show off his ability in action-heavy matches for years. The last 18 months of his OTT career, with the WALTER & David Starr matches, have shown how good he is at drama, details, and storytelling. This match with Thatcher showed his adaptability and further highlighted his attention for detail.

The beauty of Thatcher vs Devlin was the details, the little things. From start to end, the attention to detail was up there with the best matches I’ve seen in years. Devlin leaned into his recent boxing influences, circling Thatcher like an out-boxer off and on throughout the match depending on whether he saw it as being an advantage. Thatcher countered it by taking the center and using simple, clever movements to limit Devlin’s options. At one-point, Devlin started using low kicks and then quickly abandoned the strategy after Thatcher replied with a smirk and a nastier kick of his own. Wrestlers often have 1 or 2 strategies in a match. Here we had wrestlers switching between multiple plans of attack to gain an advantage. The match was about attrition, trying to wear down the opponents’ concentration and rope breaks. It also avoided the increasingly common trend of trading strikes, instead focussing on flurries, opportunity and frequent shifts in momentum.

The quality of the defense and guarding here was brilliant. Thatcher’s guard was strong and formidable, giving Devlin a few options when he had Thatcher at a disadvantage. We got a brilliant pay off at one point when both men were separated. Thatcher, fearful of a charging Devlin who was gaining momentum, had a strong guard in front of his face. Devlin’s response was to charge in and jump so his forearm came in above the guard to gain the advantage. This attention to detail doesn’t mean that the match was dry and dull. Thatcher brought out a beautiful belly to belly suplex and we even had a spinning enzuigiri that made perfect sense due to when it was used. At it’s most vicious and frantic the attention to detail still showed through. For example, a Devlin onslaught was ended not by Thatcher gaining an advantage but by Devlin running out of gas due to overexerting himself in his haste to capitalize on an opportunity. The finish was decided not by one perfectly executed move or strategy, but by who ran out of rope breaks first. When Devlin lost his last rope break it felt like a switch was flipped in Thatcher’s head and the urgency and ferocity of his reaction was such a refreshing finish. A finish not based on counters or escalating moves but instead based on gaining a tactical advantage and capitalizing on it before your opponent can get back on an even playing field.

One of my biggest issues with modern wrestling, both in Japan and NXT, is that big main events are getting longer and longer. There’s a feeling that you need to go over 30 minutes to be a great match, especially when you look at Okada’s last 2 title reigns. Thatcher vs Devlin was less than 15 minutes and yet it felt every bit a satisfying main event when compared to a lot of New Japan’s increasingly bloated main events.

One of the temptations of analyzing wrestling is analogies to other forms of media. When it comes to movie analogies it’s usually comparing one to a Marvel movie or a Hollywood blockbuster. I don’t think that’s applicable here. To me, Allen vs Jacobs and Thatcher vs Devlin are both best picture nominations. Allen vs Jacobs was a movie about a subject in the public interest with new names showing what they can do. It’s a little raw and unpolished but the passion and emotions shine through and help it connect with the audience. Thatcher vs Devlin is an understated passion project from an established star given free rein to show their vision of what their art-form can be. It might not be for everyone but for a fan with certain tastes, it is a rare treat. Both deserve praise and both will receive praise for different reasons.

Now many of my thoughts on this show, and Thatcher vs Devlin, may be over-hyping things and biased in part due to my being able to see this match at ringside with a completely unblocked view. Being the last match of a show with a long intermission and a well-stocked bar may have hampered the appreciation for Thatcher vs Devlin with some of the live audience. That combined with a local affinity for Allen & Jacobs can explain why the majority preferred that match. To me though, Thatcher vs Devlin was an example of how wrestling can be when wrestlers focus on their artistic vision and it isn’t filtered through the demands and desires of their employers.

For anyone interested in this event, Tetsujin will release the show soon on VOD. The details will be available via Tetsujin’s twitter account (@TETSUJINhybrid).