365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
I recently described this site as the pro wrestling equivalent of “Quantum Leap” — jumping around to different points in history to watch and review a noteworthy match, then move on to something else. I’ve been supporting the work being done at ACTION Wrestling for a while, so I decided to shake things up and do the first live review of a match for the project.
I certainly picked a good one… the main event of Southeast First, which saw Alex Shelley defend the IWTV World Title against AC Mack.
You can tell by the photo on this entry who won the match and frankly I was shocked by the outcome. Part of my surprise stemmed from the same stigma plaguing Southern wrestling that led Matt Griffin and others to hold this event, as he explained in our preview.
I also think that, unfortunately, wrestling history and especially recent wrestling booking have conditioned fans to anticipate unsatisfying conclusions. A feel-good moment gets replaced for the chance at building heat for another match down the road. Modern WWE booking is an excellent example of this, but think of all the other times a booker waited too long to give a wrestler who had connected with the crowd a run with the main title. By the time the move gets made, the wrestler already has cooled off.
The booking for this card, which was highly entertaining from top to bottom, plays off of these fears and ultimately provides a satisfying conclusion to a story that ACTION had been telling for months. It began when Mack, a former ACTION Champion, won the 2021 Scenic City Invitational. Then, in December, Mack was named the No. 1 contender for the IWTV Title. That championship saw its profile rise last year, with Pro Wrestling Illustrated recognizing it as an official world title.
Mack gets a hero’s welcome from a jam-packed crowd at the Rec Center in Tyrone, GA. Shelley, meanwhile, is the immediate heel. The opening note of his music is enough to turn the crowd against him — not because of anything Shelley has done (not yet), but merely because he’s the guy going against ACTION’s favorite.
This match is also proof that you don’t need a massive building or storied venue to create a great atmosphere. A humble rec center in Georgia feels like a facility 10 times that size when everyone in attendance is shoulder to shoulder, standing and making noise. Mack is in his element here, handling his own ring introduction as has been the custom for ACTION. When ring announcer Scott Hensley finally gets around to introducing the champion, he can barely be heard over the boos. Shelley grabs the microphone and adds some extra heat to the proceedings.
Now for the match itself… What ensues here is a modern twist on the old tale of a traveling champion coming into town to defend against the local favorite. The story centers around the left arm of Mack, which Shelley focuses on with ill intent for the vast majority of the match. The moment that cues the arm offense is a creative one. Mack is standing ringside when Shelley feints, vaults over the top rope with an up and over and brings both feet down across the left forearm of Mack, which was outstretched across the apron.
Credit Mack for selling Shelley’s arm attack like it rendered the limb useless. That also negates Mack from using his signature move, the Mack 10 — a cross-armed version of the Pedigree. It’s been established as a match ender in ACTION and it’s other affiliated promotions, but after the champion’s work, Mack cannot hoist Shelley and deliver the move, though not for lack of trying.
Eventually, ACTION CEO Matt Griffin comes ringside and most of the other wrestlers on the card — an inter-promotional effort featuring talent representing eight different Southeastern companies — join Griffin. Wrestlers, staff and fans surround the ring, banging on the apron and urging on the challenger. This really adds to the atmosphere and makes for a great visual.
You probably have seen Shelley wrestle or at least know of his work, though he’s had more success as a tag wrestler than in singles. A veteran of Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling and a tag champion for both companies, Shelley won the IWTV Title in October. He proves his mettle in the ring by rising to the occasion as the traveling champion facing the local hero and crafting a compelling story in a singles match of a significant length with major stakes. He’s eating up the boos from the crowd and nearly every movement, gesture and expression only raises the collective ire against him. His arm offense looks nasty and his sells and facial expressions add so much.
What’s happening here doesn’t feel like just another match and the champion sells the threat to his title reign by digging deep into his repertoire to break out a Shell Shock, the move better known as Jay White‘s Blade Runner, which White adopted after taking it from Shelley in one of his very first matches. Mack kicks out and Shelley immediately turns Mack into the Border City Stretch, a variation on the crossface he’s already tortured Mack in previously. This time, the challenger rolls Shelley onto his shoulders and… pins him.
Final Rating: 8.2
This was a fantastic match on what should be an early 2022 candidate for the best wrestling show of the year. It won’t make many match of the year lists, partly because it’s still just January and partly because it lacks some of the elements that a vocal part of the fandom believe are needed to be one of “the best” matches. However, I am hard-pressed to find an area where this match falls short.
Shelley does a masterful job as the visiting champion and Mack is in his element as the hometown hero finally getting his big match. The crowd is invested for every second. The work is smooth and compelling. The conclusion is sudden, satisfying… and also historic. With the win, Mack becomes the first openly gay male world champ in wrestling history.
It won’t make many match of the year ballots… but it should.
Another ballyhooed but new to me non-Rumble match from a Royal Rumble of yore.