Women’s pro wrestling was banned in London until 1987. This Saturday, the historic York Hall in Bethnal Green will host the biggest all-female pro wrestling show that Europe has ever seen.
It’s hard to imagine what the boxers who fought at York Hall when it opened in 1929 would have made of Pro Wrestling: EVE. The feminist activist wrestling promotion run by a pink-haired woman and her husband might have been hard to imagine. But as fans descend on the venue for Wrestle Queendom this weekend, it feels like the right kind of place to see history being made.
If you’re planning on heading to the show this weekend or watching on iPPV, here’s your complete guide to the who, what and why of every match on the show.
Jetta vs. Kris Wolf (Ladder Match Qualifier, Special Guest Referee: Erin Angel)
This was originally meant to be Jetta vs. Nicole Matthews and Kris Wolf vs. Jinny, but Matthews and Jinny have had to withdraw from the card (get well soon, Nicole, so we can enjoy your magnificent shithousery in EVE once more!) Every cloud has a silver lining, however, and the planned matches have been smooshed together in a way that I’m sure will be more Cheese and Onion than Nuts and Gum.
The storyline in which Erin Angel, as a result of a match stipulation, has to serve as Jetta’s apprentice for a year still has a couple of months to run by my reckoning, and EVE’s version of this classic wrestling plot has seen the villainous Jetta berate her charge at every turn, including mocking her losing record and making her wear a t-shirt reading, “Stay Hungry In Training” (I see what you did). She’s here as referee so that, in Jetta’s words, she can see how a “British Wrestling Legend” does things. Jetta, a heel so incredibly hateable that you can’t even take any pleasure in the craft of her blistering promos, is at her best when playing off an opponent with a zany side. In this match said opponent comes in the form of Kris Wolf, a delightful bundle of energy and meat references who is the first Western female wrestler trained from scratch in a Japanese dojo, and has been touring the US and UK indies since leaving Stardom a couple of months ago. Expect shenanigans, with perhaps an added intensity borne of the fact that the winner will qualify for the ladder match, whereupon you should no doubt expect additional shenanigans.
War Games Rules Cage Match: Squad Goals (Rhia O’Reilly, Addy Starr, Laura Di Matteo and Emi Sakura) vs. The Deserving (Jayla Dark, Charli Evans, Jamie Hayter and Blue Nikita)
The first cage match I saw live was Kane vs. The Big Show, and I expect this to be at least 10,000 times more interesting, if not more. This storyline started last year when EVE champion Rhia O’Reilly was forced to relinquish the title due to a broken leg and was appointed EVE matchmaker during her convalescence. In recent months members of the roster, led by Jayla Dark (the former Bête Noire), have been attacking the now-healthy O’Reilly every chance they get, accusing her of playing favourites and thus not affording them opportunities in the promotion that are befitting of their talents.
It’s often said that wrestling storylines are best when the heels have a point, however viciously and unfairly fought for, and this is no exception. The accusations of a lack of opportunities are not wholly credible considering Evans was given a qualifying bout (which she lost) for the ladder match on this show, and Hayter was a half-count of the referee’s hand away from reaching the SHE-1 final last year. However, it’s true that the likable O’Reilly’s (understandable) attempts to wreak revenge on current EVE champion Sammii Jayne, the woman responsible for breaking her leg, could be read uncharitably. As matchmaker O’Reilly made no secret of her desire to see Sammii unseated as EVE champion, placing her in numerous matches where the odds were stacked against her, and even at one point refusing to count what would have been a winning pinfall when serving as a special guest referee.
However, the overriding sense in this tale is that the self-proclaimed “Deserving” are just making a convenient excuse to jump the queue to glory by creating chaos instead of working their way to the top by proving they can win matches fairly, a point underlined by the fact that their attacks have also been loosed against Laura Di Matteo and Addy Starr, competitors they had no prior beef with. O’Reilly, in an attempt to settle the score for good, challenged her foes to a War Games match inside a steel cage, bringing in Japanese legend Emi Sakura as her team’s secret weapon, but The Deserving responded in kind by enlisting Blue Nikita, who hasn’t been seen in EVE since losing to Manami Toyota 18 months ago. This promises to be a chaotic scramble involving multiple combinations of bodies engaged in heated battle, and probably Emi Sakura doing something insane involving the cage wall.
Wildcard Ladder Match: Kasey Owens vs Leah Owens vs Livvi Grace vs Millie McKenzie vs Nina Samuels vs ?
Simple concept – the winner earns a title shot at a time of their choice. For legal reasons we would like to emphasise that this in absolutely no way sounds familiar to any other match in a major wrestling promotion.
All of these women won qualifying bouts to get into the Wildcard match, with the winner of Jetta vs Kris Wolf as the final entrant. All have had very impressive performances in featured matches at EVE, too. Livvi has put in two particularly great performances against Viper and Jordynne Grace this year already, while Nina Samuels was one of the MVPs of November’s She-1 weekender. Millie McKenzie tore the house down (almost literally) against Kay Lee Ray in March, but lost to Kasey Owens in April – and Leah Owens looked strong in her qualifying match against Charli Evans.
That’s everything you need to know. The beautiful simplicity of this kind of match: all you need to build is a ring to suspend the prize.
– Sarah Parkin
Meiko Satomura vs Kay Lee Ray
There’s one of those amazing GAEA matches available on YouTube which begins with KAORU – still in full entrance attire – hitting one of the most reckless suicide dives you’ve ever seen in your life to take out Lioness Asuka. A split second later the camera cuts back to the ring and Meiko Satomura is already hitting a gnarly Death Valley Driver on Akira Hokuto. Take that image and you have my rough prediction for the opening 10 seconds of this match. Aja Kong and Viper can afford to build patiently and deliberately around a few big spots, but Satomura and Ray are two of the best in the world at inflicting maximum damage at break-neck speed, and I fully expect them to go all out on this massive stage.
The psychology behind this one is straightforward at first glance but deceptively complex on closer inspection. At an EVE show on the road to York Hall, Ray explained her motivations for this match plainly – if she can beat the best, she can be the best. Both competitors in this match are gatekeepers, but with a difference – while Ray flies the flag abroad for BritWres and is a go-to booking for promoters at home that want to get the best match possible out of fledgling talent, it’s Satomura that gets all the plaudits as “Best in the World”. As Satomura makes ever greater strides in the UK scene, Ray clearly feels at risk of being overshadowed, and wants to prove that not only can she hang with this force of nature but can beat her at her own game. It’s that potent combination of bitterness and determination on the part of the “Hardcore Daredevil” that could make this the bell-to-bell highlight of the night.
– Luke Healey
Aja Kong vs Viper
It’s finally here. The match you thought you’d only see in your mate’s fan art or pixelated create-a-wrestlers on 2K18. For once, something deserving of the words “dream match”.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Aja Kong on women’s wrestling, within and outside of her native Japan. We put together a handy primer when the match was announced if you’re new to her work; the short version is that she was the monster heel of All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling when it was probably the greatest promotion of all time. With three decades of wrestling under her belt, she’s still an intimidating prospect – but she’s also been an inspiration for a generation of female performers.
That generation includes Viper, who asked for this match at an EVE show about a year ago and finally found out in November that she would get to wrestle her hero. Riding on a wave of victories against the likes of Jordynne Grace in recent months, the Vixen of Violence is an EVE regular who brings a lot of momentum into Wrestle Queendom. But this is a classic case of unstoppable force meeting immovable object, and trust me, they’ll be hearing this collision in Osaka.
– Sarah Parkin
Pro Wrestling: EVE Championship: Sammii Jayne (c) vs Charlie Morgan
It’s a sign of EVE’s commitment to making women’s wrestling in the UK not just hyped but sustainably hyped that their main event – on a card loaded with international talent – features two wrestlers that they’ve done as much as anybody to build up as major players. The EVE belt, captured in May last year, was Jayne’s first senior singles title in wrestling; championships in RCW, OTT, Discovery and Main Event Wrestling and a tour of Japan with Sendai Girls followed shortly thereafter. EVE was Charlie Morgan’s first port of call after ditching the gimmick she’d been handed in Saraya Knight’s Bellatrix promotion; while the likes of PROGRESS, OTT and Riptide have come knocking since, EVE will always be the site of her first major career success – winning the SHE-1 tournament in November to secure her spot as challenger in this main event – and, maybe more importantly, of her coming out as gay.
In a promo made in the Resistance Gallery last summer, Morgan flicked a switch and in an instant became the flag-bearer for EVE’s code of “being your fucking self and being proud of who you are”. Fortune favours the brave, and Morgan has risen to the status of “Ace of EVE” by the year’s end. When Morgan tapped out Jayne in the SHE-1 final to earn this spot, the crowd were with her 100% , and you’d expect the same at York Hall. Those fans that haven’t followed Morgan’s journey up to this point will be helped out by the fact that Jayne is a tremendous antagonist, a disrespectful villain who’s also an infuriatingly legit competitor, a fighting champion who nevertheless insists on being announced as hailing “from the shattered dreams of Rhia O’Reilly’s career”, after inflicting a serious leg injury on the former champion back in Spring last year. There may not be a more straightforward heel/babyface clash on this card, and I’m almost guaranteed to be in tears by the end of it one way or another.
– Luke Healey