If you aren’t familiar with Wrestling Cares Association, you are truly missing out on something special. Not just special for wrestling fans, but special for our communities as well. WCA isn’t a wrestling promotion; it’s an organization that combines the best professional wrestling in the country with valuable causes within its own backyard of Los Angeles. It’s president David Jackson – a philanthropist that has served as director for various charitable art foundations – called up wrestling promoters and all-around sports entertainment extraordinaire Les Thatcher and Nigel McGuinness to bring the best independent talent to the Golden State, run a yearlong tournament called Race for the Ring and donate 25% of all ticket sales from every show to non-profit organizations.
Saturday night was the culmination of WCA’s first year, with three champions named: the Race for the Ring winner, the Les Thatcher’s Ladies Beat the Champ Series winner and the crowning of the Golden State Tag Team Champions. The months of build up to this event saw many of the indy scene’s top superstars come and go, including Drake Younger, Greek God Papadon and CZW Champion Drew Gulak. But as Gorilla Monsoon would say, “This one’s for all the marbles” and WCA did not disappoint.
The night kicked off with a battle of the big men that pitted Aaron Aguilera taking on Pro Wrestling Guerrilla favorite Brian Cage. Surprisingly, despite the 250+lb frames of both men, the match delivered plenty of technical mat action to even out its high-powered spots. Cage impressed by holding Aguilera straight up for a solid 20 seconds and later delivering a ring-shaking suplex from the apron back into the ring. But it was Aguilera’s agility that highlighted the bout. Imagine a 6’7” man running up the turnbuckles and turning into a flying crossbody. Aguilera also hit a hurricarrana on a listless Cage sitting atop the turnbuckles, Aguilera’s length strength sending Cage flying to the opposing corner. In the end it was that strength that prevailed, with Aguilera gaining the victory.
Next up was the Ladies Beat the Champ series final. Katarina Leigh had defeated all comers from Taeler Hendrix to Candice LaRae for several months, but this would prove to be her gravest challenge to date with newly honored PWI female wrestler of the year Cheerleader Melissa making her way to WCA. Ladies Beat the Champ matches are contested under 10-minute iron man rules, with the victor being the one who gains the most pinfalls/submissions in the allotted time. And there were a lot of falls, mostly rollup reversals. Melissa took a 2-1 lead early with a Samoan drop, but Kat jumped ahead quickly after with a swinging back breaker across the knee. Melissa fought back hard and tied the score at 3-3 with a crafty rollup out of a Boston crab, but in the end WCA’s number one female was still Katarina, scoring the final pinfall and sealing the deal with a 4-3 victory. Following the match, Thatcher, McGuinness and Jackson awarded Kat with a beautiful cup trophy and praised her for her determination and perseverance. The usual catty, heel Katarina shared a humble and appreciative moment with the fans and her peers to express her gratitude of their support as she raised her award proudly. And thus was the first misty-eyed moment of WCA’s finals.
Next, Willie Mack vs. Brandon Gatson vs. BBoy was under triple threat rules. This match had, by far, the loudest slaps, kicks and chops out of any other. When any one of these men took a superkick to the side of the face, you could hear it for miles. While BBoy, a veteran of the indy scene, and Mack, a local favorite, seemed they would have the match in hand, it was Gatson that provided the finesse, delivering the first jaw-dropping spot of the night with a cartwheel/backflip over the top rope onto both opponents on the floor. Mack took the spotlight next when he piled BBoy and Gatson both upon his shoulders for a crushing Samoan drop and then followed it with his always impressive free-standing moonsault. But to the audience’s delight, Gatson and BBoy kicked out. In the end, BBoy got the victory with a swift shining wizard, proving once and for all the smart veteran can always overcome.
Coming up next was a grudge match to end all grudge matches: Scrap Iron Adam Pearce vs. Adam Page. In a world of professional wrestling where true heel characters are a dime a dozen, here is Adam Pearce to save the day. WCA is a show about charity and sportsmanship, and good ole Scrap Iron is talking shit to the KIDS in the crowd. Not only that, but he beat the living crap out of Page. The match started with Pearce ducking outside the ring, waiting for Page to come around the corner during his entrance and POW! Pearce nearly decapitated Page with a running clothesline. No ring introductions in this one. Page fought valiantly and got in some offense, namely a stunning shooting star press from the apron onto the floor, but Pearce dominated throughout. Page sat atop the turnbuckle, chest beat red and gasping for breath as Pearce went to finish the job. But wait! Page with a shocking DDT…1-2-3! What an upset! The crowd was never louder than in this match, enjoying the back and forth heckling with Pearce. It’s the rarest thing to see in mainstream wrestling today: an audience just loving to hate the bad guy, but thankfully Adam Pearce delivers just that.
Following the match was a special tribute ceremony to Scrap Iron for his dedicated 18 years in the business. Once again, Thatcher, McGuinness and Jackson stepped into the ring and presented Pearce with a plaque. Thatcher called Pearce “timeless”, saying he could have been a top star in any era of wrestling. McGuinness regaled in his memories of working with Pearce and complimented his passion for the business. “If you look up a love for professional wrestling in the dictionary, you’ll see Adam Pearce,” McGuinness said. Pearce graciously thanked the WCA promoters for their great organization and then the fans for being the driving force of wrestling. He looked out to his peers, the locker room that flooded out to ringside, and spoke of the bonds he’s made. He gave them three rules to live by: 1. Work hard 2. Treat people fairly and 3. Earn your respect. Do these things and you will never not be successful. With that, Jackson presented a $500 WCA check from the show’s ticket sales to Pearce for the organization he and his wife chose for the event, the San Diego Center for Children. With a standing ovation, we went to intermission.
Coming back was the finals for the Golden State Tag Team Championship featuring the team of Oliver John and Timothy Thatcher vs. Rocky Romero and SoCal wrestling favorite Joey Ryan (the original match was expected to be John/Thatcher vs. Forever Hooligans Romero and Alex Koslov, however Koslov was unable to compete due to injury. The crowd easily accepted the Ryan fill-in, dubbing the team “Sleazy Hooligans”). This match was also contested under 10 minute iron man rules. It was a solid match that combined the technical mat prowess of Thatcher and high impact offense of John with the craftier, speedier styles of Romero and Ryan. Thatcher worked the arms of his opponents for the majority of the match, but a Ryan superkick earned the first fall. At the end of 10, the score was 1-1 and we went to a 3-minute sudden death overtime. Just over a minute in, John hit a back breaking scoop slam and sealed the victory. Following, the WCA promoters met the winners in the ring and handed them their championship trophy. Thatcher (Les) thanked the duo for bringing back tag team wrestling, to which the crowd erupted into a “Tag team wrestling!” chant. John put over Thatcher before delivering the quote of night, calling himself “the toughest goddamn wrestler that’s too old to score with the college chicks but too young to get a discount at Denny’s.”
And now it was time for the main event. Fans braced themselves, knowing this Race for the Ring tournament final between Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano was going to be emotional, awe-inspiring and jump-out-of-your-seat good. And it was nothing less. The iron man rules were extended to a 20 minute time limit and within the first five minutes, it was clear that both men brought their A-game. With a series of counters and reversals, hitting each other with similar moves that wouldn’t stagger either one, they traded pinfalls to a 2-2 tie. Cole seemed to get the upper hand with a submission point using the figure 4, but Gargano wasn’t going down easily. He hit a beautiful spear through the ropes, soon followed by a superkick and the tying point. The men continued the evenly-matched battle until Cole went for the figure 4 again. But Gargano was ready this time and reversed it for his own submission point. The clock was winding down quickly, the competitors exhausted but the crowd energetic as can be with alternating “Gar-gan-o!” and “Adam Win Win!” chants. And Adam did win, scoring a 4th pinfall on a suplex to tie the score at 4-4 with only 30 seconds left in regulation.
But the 3-minute OT period was still not enough to determine a winner, as neither man scored a fall. Thatcher announced the match would continue until one man had his arm raised. We fight on! Then came a series of close calls that sent the audience into a frenzy. Gargano goes for the spear through the ropes again but Cole hits him with a devastating superkick. Gargano kicks out! Gargano throws Cole face first into the second turnbuckle, picks him back up and throws him into the opposing corner. Cole kicks out! Gargano takes a face-first DDT on the apron followed by a front flip piledriver. Gargano kicks out! The crowd is chanting “Wrestling Cares!” and “This is wrestling!” As Gorilla would also say, “This place is going bananas!” There is not a person sitting down as Gargano and Cole simultaneously hit each other with a superkick and both fall to the mat. With Gargano draped atop Cole, the ref counts the 1-2-3 and Johnny Gargano is your Race for the Ring Tournament winner!!
Gargano stumbles to his feet as the promoters rush to the ring to present him with his award. The crowd is still hollering and applauding. Thatcher speaks briefly, saying that when he looks at the future of professional wrestling, he knows it is in good hands with the likes of Gargano and Cole. Cole is given the microphone and thanks Gargano for being the best he’s ever been in the ring with. Adam Pearce walks out from behind the curtain and sprays down Cole while Gargano, in awe of receiving the honor of the ring, puts Cole over as the best in independent wrestling today. Gargano thanks Thatcher for his mentorship, says professional wrestling would be a better place if there were more guys like Nigel McGuinness and praises the WCA organization. The crowd is now chanting “You are wrestling!” at Gargano, who swiftly denies the praise and assures the fans that, No, YOU are wrestling. And in the final moments of the night, McGuinness gives the crowd a good champagne shower and a year of wrestling, charity, entertainment and passion ends in a standing ovation of appreciation. Not a dry eye in the house.