Eddie Kingston vs Chris Hero
Loser Leaves Town
New Alhambra Arena, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
(reviewed 05/20/2019) Once again this is several months since the last Hero/Kingston match so lemme run down a few important events.
Shortly after Kingston wins the top belt, CZW vacates the tag titles and announces that the next show will feature a tournament to crown new champions. If you’ll recall, Kingston and Joker won those belts a while back but in the months since BLKOUT have started passing them around, defending them under a Freebird rule. CZW never directly acknowledges why the belts were vacated but it doesn’t make sense that they were mad about about the belt swapping, since several previous tag champions have operated under that idea. Either way, Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli cut through the tournament fairly easily and defeat the makeshift team of Justice Pain and Human Tornado to win the CZW tag titles a second time. They’ve been Campeonatos de Parejas since February and just won the ROH tag titles last month, so this makes them unquestionably the top team on the indies.
BLKOUT hits the ring as soon as the Kings win. Kingston goes right after Hero, stomping him down and decking him with the microphone that he’s screaming into. He says that last month was supposed to be all about him but then Hero went and won the ROH tag titles. This show was supposed to be all about Sabian’s return (as he missed the last CZW show though it clearly wasn’t due to injury, looking at Cagematch, so that can’t be why the belts were vacated) but now Hero’s gone and won the CZW tag titles too. Screeching now, Kingston says that Hero will never outshine him and this war between them will never end. He grabs Hero by the throat and begins choking him, to the point that Ruckus and Sabian awkwardly try to intervene.
Hero passes out but as soon as people start to cheer for him, Kingston runs over and starts choking him again.
People cheer Kingston, because wrestling fans are the worst, but now the hazy double turn is brought into sharp relief with a deranged Kingston firmly crossing the line. Hero is just as popular as King is now and wasn’t sticking his nose in King’s business or screwing over his friends like he has in the past, so Kingston’s actions here are totally indefensible. Eventually Necro Butcher, still limping from his match with Kingston earlier in the night, makes the save and drives BLKOUT off before they can murder Hero.
For reasons that will never make any sense, Justice Pain then gets involved in this story. After helping Sabian and Robbie Mireno beat the Kings of Wrestling for the tag titles, Kingston defends the heavyweight title against Pain at Night of Infamy 5. Pain controls much of the match thanks to Kingston’s newfound cowardice and it’s only through copious interference from BLKOUT that the champ stays competitive. Still bloody from the earlier attack, Hero storms the ring to enact his revenge on Kingston but accidentally winds up hitting Pain, which gives Kingston the opening he needs to retain the title.
At Cage of Death the three men meet in an elimination title match. It’s an infamous match, as Kingston lands poorly on a back body drop and breaks his ankle three minutes in. He tries to work through it but it’s clear that he’s fucked so he calls to get pinned right away. Being a smooth-brained ignoramus of the highest order, Pain applies a spinning toe hold on the foot that Kingston just injured. Kingston yells at him to stop but it’s too late, so he taps out frantically and sits out the next three months. Hero and Pain continue to have a surprisingly decent match (great feather in Hero’s cap, methinks) where Pain does this…
…and comes out on top, winning the CZW World Heavyweight Championship for a fifth time.
Hard to tell if this was the plan all along, Pain getting the title. He’s popular as hell, sure, and ever since he ousted Mike Burns and assaulted Mike Pancoast this is the kind of stuff that Zandig wanted to get back to as the head of the company. But Pain is clearly a huge liability and can barely function as a wrestler at this point. All year he’s been doing the “aged gunslinger trying to claw back to relevance” story and that’s to cover for the fact that he is shot to hell despite being, like, 28. His rocky relationship with and enabling of his brother is causing all sorts of embarrassing, insane episodes in front of the camera. He’s got a streak of hurting people, something that’s only going to get worse here in his last few months with the company. Pain being shoved into the Hero/Kingston story makes it seem like he was going to take the belt off them all along but even considering CZW’s ineptitude and lack of forethought it just seems too preposterous to have been the master plan.
In January, Pain and Hero have a rematch for the title as Kingston lambastes them on commentary. The match is bad and King’s shooty comments don’t help. At the anniversary show the month after that Pain faces off against his brother for the title. They are terribly uncooperative with each other on top of the usual sloppiness and eventually Pain just hoists Gage up and…
…separates his shoulder. Along with a litany of personal problems this basically ends Nicky’s 2007, as he doesn’t wrestle again until a surprise match at Cage of Death. Say what you will about Nicky’s attitude and substance abuse but Pain actively trying to injure someone (his own brother, no less) to end a match is scummy as shit. What’s more it’s the exact last thing CZW needs right now, as they’ve been hemorrhaging fans and buzz ever since Zandig started booking again. The boss rushes down to the locker room to try and throw together a make-good, convincing Pain to go back out. Back in the ring Pain cuts a truly awful, insidery crowd-rallying promo and makes an open challenge to anyone in the locker room. The crowd chants for new hotness Drake Younger, who already had a pretty gnarly deathmatch tonight, and so he’s sacrificed on the altar of Justice Pain:
Against all odds the match does function in sending the crowd home happy and it makes Drake forever, as he quickly becomes the top guy and stays that way until he moves to California.
Other people aren’t quite so happy.
Chris Hero sees the direction the company is headed in and who he’d be facing if he stuck around, so he decides it’d be best to skip town. In an effort to finally wrap things up with Eddie Kingston, he proposes a Loser Leaves Town match.
I love this thing and think very highly of it for two main reasons: it does a better job of relating hatred and intensity than probably any other American indie match I’ve seen and, on some level, it isn’t a wrestling match.
That first point is much more obvious so let’s start there. Even before either man enters the ring there’s something in the air here. It’s not just the excitement of a big blowoff match, the feeling of finality, but rather it’s the stillness before a hard rain starts to fall. These guys live up to that atmosphere, as they strike like lightning every step of the way. Even more than just hitting each other hard—which Lord Almighty, they do—it’s the tertiary actions these men take that sells me on how much hatred there is here. It’s the way they taunt and prod and insult each other constantly. It’s the way Kingston tries to strangle his man when he can and the way Hero goes after his eyes to save himself. It’s the way every third move has a little extra sauce on it, escalating exponentially in their attempts to cut each other down, not to gain control so they can win per se but just to maim the other guy.
A lot of this bout rides the line between professional and unprofessional. Nobody’s ever doing anything like what Justice Pain did to his brother, sure, because so often that reduces matches to a muddled mess. But every so often someone makes a cutoff or someone fires back especially fast with a strike and it’s the sort of thing other people—people who didn’t know each other so well, for better or for worse—would describe as taking liberties. This thing never manages to fly off the rails, in part because there isn’t much in the way of rails to begin with, but mostly because these guys aren’t trying to cut things short or to look big and bad. That’s what Justice Pain was doing there or what guys like Super Dragon and Kazuyuki Fujita might do elsewhere. Here, these two want this to last as long as it can. It’s more torture session than wrestling match.
That brings me to my second point, that this isn’t a wrestling match. I’ve spoken about that idea in this feud before but this is the culmination of it, I think. There are no control segments here, no heat or shine to speak of. The action doesn’t rise and fall so much as cascade endlessly. I don’t think there’s more than ten pin attempts bell to bell, if that. So much of this bout eschews what we have come to understand professional wrestling to be, even if a lot of the action is stuff you’ll find in most any arena and bingo hall across the world. What separates this from those matches is the severity with which these two are going at it and the ways in which they avoid monotony. They do well to sprinkle in various identifiable elements of pro wrestling (a few simple choreographed spots; move stealing; callbacks to previous meetings) and do a better job of it here than they have in the past, blending them seamlessly into the pedal-to-the-metal war the rest of this thing is. The ever-hostile Philly crowd doesn’t always react well to this non-wrestling (especially the folks who seem to despise Kingston, Hero, or both) but the most brutal, most intense moments get bigger reactions than any CZW show in years.
Even in their individual demeanor these guys aren’t acting like they would in other matches. Kingston is just constantly grunting like an animal, scarcely ever saying anything that resembles words. When he does he barks his threats out, drawing plenty of bewildered laughs and jeers from fans in the crowd. Along with his selling it makes for what is probably the best performance of his career, certainly the best to this point in 2007. He’s not knocking it out of the park in selling a specific body part but instead reacting perfectly to the countless jabs and boots and headbutts Hero throws his way. There’s nothing so dramatic and phony as “oh, my leg’s been hurt, I’m going to hop up on one foot as I throw this punch to show that my leg’s been hurt”. Instead it’s the pained yelps and glassy-eyed stare of a man who’s destroying more and more brain cells with every passing second. And he sells that idea too! Kingston’s in a bad way here, mentally, and that comes across whether he’s throwing punches or taking them. Outside of his matches with Tim Donst I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him teeter over the edge of sanity so precipitously.
Hero’s performance isn’t quite so transcendent but it’s fantastic in its own way. King is an unhinged monster at his core but in spite of everything Hero’s a fairly level-headed guy (look at the way he plays to the crowd before the bell), so he approaches this fight with that in mind. He’s not willing to mutilate someone like Kingston is in his worst moments but the guy pushes him more than anyone ever has or ever will. You can see Hero grappling with this at times, gauging whether he should really hit this obviously unwell man as hard as King hits him. When Kingston paintbrushes him with a slap or caves his teeth in with a kick, Hero’s practically backed up into a corner and has no choice but to swing his way free.
Thing is, there’s no way free. This is a cycle that will continue until all are destroyed. Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. The ultimate moral of this feud—and of this meeting in particular—is what Christ related at his arrest, that they who take the sword shall perish with the sword. Even more than just being a compelling story or an awesome slugfest, I appreciate this match as a parable. All too often wrestling’s moral tales in this vein end tragically, whether it was a few months after this in 2007 or ten years later. This match is tragic in a sense, in that no one finds the solace they sought and move on to another battlefield to begin anew, but I’m glad it doesn’t make me watch these men destroy themselves. Not yet, at any rate.
In the end Kingston’s willingness to go too far is what makes the difference. Both men are running on fumes after they bloody themselves with headbutts, groggily scrambling for anything that might banish the other to another promotion. Hero rises to his feet in spite of a backdrop suplex/lariat combo but a wild backfist fells him like a tree. Finally, after years of trying, Eddie Kingston has defeated Chris Hero clean in singles competition. Now all he has are memories of what he lost to get here.
I’m sure you know what happens next. CZW founder/owner/booker/scourge John Zandig comes to the ring for what is meant to be a dumb post-match angle that transfers any and all heat to the boss man. Even before the match ends it’s clear that Kingston isn’t happy about it. Halfway through the bout, when a bit of feedback blares over the sound system, King glares up at the crow’s nest and shouts at whoever’s up there to fuck off and not steal their moment. After the match, Zandig helps Hero to his feet and thanks him for everything he’s done for CZW. Hero takes the mic and thanks the fans for respecting him in spite of the bad impressions he’s left over the years and says he was proud to make CZW his home. When he’s done Kingston steps up to him, clearly distressed, and instead of making a move he flips Hero off and leaves the ring. Zandig tries to stop him but Kingston shouts that he won’t be ruining their moment before returning to the locker room. A few fans start up a “fuck you Kingston” chant and Zandig prods the whole crowd into chiming in before he describes Kingston’s various complaints and insults over the years and then publicly fires him.
Skip to nine minutes into this video to see footage of the incident.
So CZW runs a loser leaves town match and both guys end up leaving. The two biggest stars in the company, no less, and only two months after they lost another of their top guys to injury. After this show Justice Pain disappears for a while and drops the belt to Ruckus in his last appearance with the company before retiring at the end of the year, so over the course of a few weeks CZW manages to nuke basically their entire main event scene.
It’s deeply, painfully funny to be sure but I don’t want it to detract from the weight of this story: in tearing at each other’s throats Hero and Kingston manage to alienate themselves from their home. Both guys have their roots elsewhere but CZW is where they made their names, especially in relation to an ROH fanbase that has since written the so-called canonical history of independent wrestling. They’ll both return to CZW a few times but it’s never the same. Hero comes back for one-off matches against friends and students in 2010 and 2013. Kingston returns more frequently, at first to help out DJ Hyde, the shithead who Zandig sells the company to in 2009. That turns into him coming back full time in 2010 but it barely lasts half a year, as the incompetent Deej fucks him on a few things. He does one-offs in 2011 and 2012 (at least one of which goes horribly awry) and hasn’t returned since. So ends the CZW careers of its self-proclaimed savior and the guy their best booker pegged as the future of the company.
Thankfully it’s far from the end of Hero vs Kingston.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO SHAWN VS TAKER FROM WM25: Man I’ve written enough, come on.
VERDICT: Better than Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker from WrestleMania 25