In the quiet south London suburb of Wimbledon, with its luxury shops and trendy pubs and bars, down a quiet side street in the local library, a group of a hundred or so wrestling fans gather. In an industry which, at times, feels like it’s filled with cynicism and at a time when ‘BritWres’ is supposedly dead, a quiet revolution is happening in this South London side street.

Last night marked the first all-women show for Pro Wrestling SOUL; a landmark for this small-company-that-can which has spent the last year building a cult following – it was also their biggest capacity crowd to date.

And what a show it was. Stacked top to bottom with some of the best wrestlers on the British scene, it was a brilliant night out. Walking through the doors of Merton Arts Space, which is basically a library, the atmosphere was buzzing.

SOUL owner Slick Lombardo relinquished his usual duties as MC for Jaida to take the reins. It should be noted that the referee, ring crew, photographer, medic – all were women. It was clear that if SOUL was going to have an all-women show, they were going to do it right. Jaida announced the set-up for the night, the quarter-finals and semi-finals for the tournament to crown the first Pro Wrestling SOUL Women’s Champion with the final taking place on December 29th.

Quarter-final match: Charli Evans defeated Mercedes Blaze

This was a great opener. Charli is a great wrestler, her time in Japan at the Sendai Girls promotion and the fact that she is one-half of the tag team champions there is a testament to that. Mercedes Blaze is another mainstay on the British scene and putting these two against each other for the first match set a high bar for the rest of the night.

Both wrestlers were fairly evenly matched at first. There were some great high spots from Mercedes which played off well against Charli’s power. Ultimately, though, and with the crowd firmly behind her, Charli hit the cradle DDT for the pinfall.

In a quick post-match interview conducted by Lexi Rose, Charli Evans affirmed her commitment to British women’s wrestling and said that here is where you’ll find the best women wrestlers in the world. I can’t argue with that.

Quarter-final match: Bobbi Tyler defeated CHAKARA

Another good match with two well-established wrestlers. CHAKARA is such a great heel. As soon as she was through the curtain she was in the faces of the crowd, talking smack and taking no crap off of anyone. Bobbi Tyler was able to work from underneath the whole match to stage a comeback and grab the win. CHAKARA’s disbelief and her reaction at the end of the match were priceless – her commitment to her character unparalleled for the night. That’s not to take anything away from Bobbi Tyler, who sold every move and gave a real sense of struggle when mounting her comeback.

Quarter-final match: Kanji defeated Millie McKenzie

Time for two young stars on the rise. I’ve seen plenty of Millie McKenzie matches over the last couple of years and she remains a prodigy given her age and experience but tonight was revelatory in unleashing Kanji – another young wrestler looking to make a name for herself.

Millie dominated the action in parts with Kanji selling like absolute death. I don’t think there’s anything quite like watching Millie McKenzie hit a picture-perfect German suplex and the build-up to her hitting the move was great. For two young wrestlers, the pacing and the build of the match to its finish were superb.

After absorbing punishment from Millie (as well as dishing out some of her own) Kanji hit the rope-walk stunner for the win. An upset of sorts but one that paid dividends later in the evening.

Quarter-final match: Dani Luna defeated Talia Martins

This one was straight down to business. Luna and Martins tore chunks out of each other with impressive strikes and slams. However, despite boasting more appearances in SOUL, it was not for Talia Martins as Luna won with a frog splash from the top rope. This was a solid match with Luna establishing herself as a heel at the end by brushing off the post-match interview with Lexi Rose.

Kafka Kup Snapmare Challenge

After the interval, where there was a raffle raising money for charity with the prize as two free tickets for Pro Wrestling SOUL 7 next month, it was on to the Kafka Kup Snapmare Challenge. For those of you who don’t know, the Kafka Kup is curated by Josef Kafka and Aleah James as the first inter-promotional, international, interspecies wrestling competition. Prone to sudden rule changes mid-match and other dastardly shenanigans, it was great to see that in keeping with the focus of the evening on women’s wrestling, Josef Kafka did not appear, leaving it to Aleah to defend the Cup. After the standard entrance to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, complete with flag-waving, Aleah introduced her opponent for the challenge…none other than British women’s wrestling legend Jinny.

After introducing Jinny as the ‘snapmarer’, Aleah then selected ring crew Shannon Pike as the ‘snapmaree’. Needless to say, Aleah won the challenge after Jinny failed to snap mare Shannon in 15 seconds, and Aleah was able to catch Shannon quickly for the takedown.

This was a good spot, adding to the mythos of the Kup and further feeding into the self-righteous aspects of Aleah’s (and by association, Kafka’s) characters.

Semi-final Match: Dani Luna defeated Bobbi Tyler

The show seemed to be running over a bit so this first semi-final match felt like it was cut a little short to make time for the main event. However, if that was the case it didn’t really matter as it set Luna up as the type of wrestler who does not mess around and gets straight down to business. After a bit of back and forth, Bobbi Tyler was pinned after Luna’s impressive frog splash.

Semi-final match: Kanji defeated Charli Evans

This was the match of the night for me. There were some great spots. Kanji and Evans traded strikes (Evans’s training in Japan with the legendary Meiko Satomura clearly on display), with Kanji able to absorb the punishment while yet again selling like death for Evans.

After trading finishers which were clearly established in their quarter-finals matches, Evans with the cradle DDT followed by Kanji with the rope walk stunner, Evans’ ring awareness came into play as she rolled out of the ring. Such a great tactic that is seldom used but makes perfect sense. (Kanji’s ring awareness, for someone relatively new to the sport, was also on display, rolling up Evans for a two count when too close to the ropes).

All too often, it seems that false finishes have nowhere to go or just end up in a back and forth of trading the same moves until one wrestler relents. It was great to see Kanji have somewhere to go with her finish – rather than walking the ropes and transitioning to the stunner, she used a springboard stunner from the second turnbuckle. It was this level of detail that helped make this a great match and the big-match finish helped to cement Kanji as a real contender for the women’s title.

The stage was set for Kanji vs. Dani Luna to crown the first SOUL Women’s champion at SOUL 8: Take A Look At Me Now on December 29th.

Overall, this was a great night of wrestling. The match quality was brilliant and the crowd were up for it. Other promoters should take note of the approach here. If you intend to have women’s wrestling on your shows, it’s not good enough to pay lip service with a token match or to have a women’s champion who seldom appears on your shows.

Running shows like this where the best talent is showcased in a safe space, where the gender balance shifts 100% in the other direction is a great way of driving forward change in a male-dominated industry where positive women role models (let alone such a diverse group of women role models as on display last night) are often marginalised.

Pro Wrestling SOUL have taken up the banner for women’s wrestling and got it right the first time. It will be interesting to see who else will follow.

All images courtesy of Pro Wrestling SOUL and @THIS_imagery

By Stephen Goodman

Wrestling journalist based in south London. I like New Japan, Rev Pro, SOUL and lots more.

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