There weren't any foreign objects or eye-gouging, but a small but enthusiastic crowd cheered on their pro wrestling favorites Sunday night at the Bearle Club near Netanya.
The Passover Bash show was promoted by the Israeli Pro Wrestling Association (IPWA), headed by Gery Roif, and Ring of Honor (ROH), and featured American wrestlers from the independent circuit – David Starr, Matt Sydal and ROH legend Jay Lethal. Local talent opened up the performance to build crowd excitement to a frenzy ahead of the main attractions.
Sydal and Starr – both American Jewish wrestlers – have wrestled in Israel before and are world class performers, with Sydal being especially well known from his runs with Impact Wrestling and in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the latter of which was while under the name Evan Bourne.
Though the show started at 7:30 p.m., Sydal ran a training camp earlier in the day on the IPWA's new ring, which Lethal also attended as a surprise.
"The new ring is amazing," Sydal told The Jerusalem Post
, and it was something the IPWA's promoter paid for himself.
Indeed, Roif has spared no expense in ensuring that this show is a complete success, paying for everything out of pocket.
But the end goal, he says, is to build up Israel's wrestling scene, and make it something comparable to the European or the US independent circuit.
At 7:30 p.m., the lights dimmed and the entrance music hit as the show began. The first match on the card was between two local wrestlers, Shay Blanco and Lior Libman – two of Roif's pupils at the IPWA wrestling school – attempting to bring an end to years-long feud.
The crowd for the event was small, as the venue itself was, but according to Sydal, this isn't an issue.
"Whether it's 80 fans or 80,000, my ring is always the same size," he told the Post.
He wasn't wrong, as despite the small size, the crowd was very active, responding to the matches with building excitement as the skilled performers in the ring worked the crowd into cheers, boos and chants with technical and acrobatic performances.
Roif came out before the next match to thank everyone for coming and swore that this wouldn't be a one-off show.
Three matches of the local talent followed, showcasing some of the brightest stars the Israeli wrestling scene has to offer and in a variety of match-types. This included singles matches, a triple-threat match (a three person winner-take-all match) and even a tag team match, showcasing the variety of talent at the IPWA. Each match only increased in quality, building the crowd up for the biggest matches of the night.
After that, the MC switched from Hebrew to English as the most highly anticipated matches on the main card began. Roif, wrestling as "Rabbi Swissa," came out to defend his IPWA heavyweight title against Matt Sydal.
Earlier, Sydal told the Post
that he was nervous and didn't have a clear strategy going into the match, and planned to react to what the five-time IPWA champion threw at him. However, the American wrestler swore he wouldn't leave Israel without the gold, and scored a pin over the defending champ.
Lastly, the main event arrived. ROH wrestling legend Jay Lethal entered to huge applause, which didn't lessen at all when his opponent David Starr entered the ring.
The buildup to this match was marred with politically charged controversy, mostly on Starr's part following his protests of ROH's owners Sinclair Broadcast Group. Indeed, reflecting his views, Starr wore customized trunks into the ring, one half with an Israeli flag and the word Shalom and the other half with a PA flag and the word Salam.
Only adding to the controversy was that originally, this match was going to be for the ROH World Heavyweight Championship. However, on April 6th at Madison Square Garden during ROH's G1 Supercard event (held in conjunction with New Japan Pro Wrestling), Lethal lost the title to his rival Matt Taven.
Despite the politics and the absence of the title on the line, both left it out of the ring as two of the best wrestlers in the world put on a masterclass performance that seemed to never slow down. Evidently, the loss of the title didn't seem to diminish the crowd's excitement either way. The passionate audience was on their feet the entire time, chanting "Let's go Lethal!" "Let's go David!" and "Both of those guys!" Additional chants of "this is awesome!" and "fight forever!" – arguably some of the highest praise a crowd can give a match in Pro Wrestling – rang loudly through venue as both wrestlers grappled with each other, only to erupt into massive cheers as Lethal hit Starr with his finishing move "the Lethal Injection" for the pin, giving two a literally standing ovation.
Afterwards, Lethal and Starr shook hands in a sign of respect as both acknowledged the other as an incredibly talented opponent.
Lethal expressed his happiness at finally coming to Israel, and he plans to go see sites in Jerusalem tomorrow with Roif, Starr and Sydal before they leave.
"The show was a success, the crowd was amazing," one of the Israeli wrestlers that opened the show told the Post
, adding that like Roif, he hopes to do this again soon.
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