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CM Punk on UFC debut: 'I'm not feeling any outside pressure'
2:21 | MMA
CM Punk on UFC debut: 'I'm not feeling any outside pressure'
Justin Barrasso
Wednesday September 7th, 2016

CM Punk makes his much-anticipated UFC debut this Saturday against virtual unknown Mickey Gall at UFC 203 in Cleveland. SI.com spoke with Punk’s coach, Duke Roufus, ahead of the fight. 

Although the 24-year-old Gall (2–0) has not defeated anyone of note, the 37-year-old Punk has visibly taken his lumps during his foray into mixed martial arts. Punk suffered numerous setbacks during his training, most recently with back surgery this past February. But Punk has an ace up his sleeve – or, more appropriately – in his corner that Gall will not come fight night.

Punk has Roufus, the renowned MMA coach and four-time kickboxing world champion, guiding his nascent career.

“If it were anyone else, I wouldn’t have done this,” said Roufus, whose name is synonymous with excellence in the MMA world. “I met Punk in January of 2013, the Thursday before Anthony Pettis’ fight with Donald Cerrone. A mutual friend of ours, Chael Sonnen, put us together, and we were cool from the beginning. It’s been an incredible journey.”

Roufus runs Roufusport Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Milwaukee, and the 6’4”, 220-pound Roufus finished his kickboxing career with a record of 36-8-1, notching twenty-six of his victories by knockout. He is also one of the premiere striking coaches in the sport, and is the corner man for former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis and current UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley.

“Punk is a guy who doesn’t necessarily need to do this,” explained Roufus. “A lot of people get into the sport of fighting for a better life, usually monetarily, but for him this is spiritual and it is a life-long dream. To me, that trumps the financial situation. He’s a guy who doesn’t need to do this, so he’s doing it on his own accord, and it’s organic and it’s producing a lot of great enthusiasm. I think he’s going to give the fans an incredible fight, and we’re training to win.”

Roufus blocks out all of the criticism and doubt when Punk trains, forcing the former five-time WWE champion to focus solely on his results in the cage.

“If you focus on criticism, you’re never going to get anywhere,” said Roufus. “You need to focus on results. Results drive us. The results are done here training and the results are done in the arena that night, that’s all we are focused on here.

“Punk is very committed, very driven, and he has an incredible attitude, and those are the easiest guys in the world to coach. I just recently had Tyron Woodley win a championship out of this gym, and Anthony Pettis is the same, and Punk has those same types of characteristics.”

Punk has history performing in front of mammoth crowds, which prepared him for the type of bright lights that could crack Mickey Gall.

“They call that ‘UFC Octagon jinx,’” said Roufus. “A lot of people have a hard time winning their first fight in the Octagon. Your first fight can freak you out. Going from a small venue of 1,000 people to 15,000–20,000 people, with cameras and the world watching, is pretty overwhelming. That’s what Punk is best at, and that’s a huge edge for our team.”

The UFC-produced “Evolution of Punk” show documented Punk’s entry into MMA and preparation for Gall, but the footage—Roufus warned—should not be used as footage for Gall to prepare for the fight.

“That’s our Trojan horse,” said a smiling Roufus. “If you’re studying that, then please continue. That’s a point-one version, and we’re at point four or five now. That’s over a year ago in his progression, and that’s the cool thing about it. Some people know how to rise to the occasion, and I’m very confident that Punk is going to rise to the occasion.”

Roufus noted that Punk evolved into a far more dangerous fighter after his back surgery in February.

“Before he had back surgery, we were all wondering, ‘How the heck did this guy do WWE?’” said Roufus. “He was so weak at the time. And it’s not that he is weak, it’s just that he was hurt. Punk is so strong in the head because he used to have to wrestle 300 times a year that his pain tolerance is incredibly high. That’s what he did for work. Once he got the surgery, he was a completely different athlete and different person.”

The Sports Illustrated feature on CM Punk—which includes an exclusive one-on-one interview from Roufusport in Milwaukee—will post Thursday on SI.com.

Five Questions with… Chael Sonnen

Courtesy of Chael Sonnen

UFC legend Chael Sonnen hosts “You’re Welcome!” on PodcastOne, delivering three new episodes each week. The mixed martial artist is also friends with CM Punk, and he discussed Punk’s preparation – and chances – in his upcoming fight against Mickey Gall at UFC 203 this Saturday.

SI.com: In most cases, a 37-year-old professional wrestler making the transition to mixed martial arts would be a recipe for disaster, but CM Punk has greatly benefited from working with renowned coach Duke Roufus. Why did you connect Punk with Roufus?

Sonnen: Yes, Mike Roberts from my management team put Punk in touch with Duke Roufus. Punk is in good hands, he couldn’t have picked a better place to be. I’m really excited for the Punk fight, and the heavyweight title is also on the line that night. This is something Punk wanted to do, and he’s going to do it well. I talk to him all the time, and I talk to his teammates. He’s made huge gains, and he’s working hard, humble, and disciplined – what more can you want from the guy?

SI.com: Who is the tougher opponent to prepare for—CM Punk, who is making his debut, or Mickey Gall, who is 2–0? And how did you first develop your friendship with Punk?

Sonnen: When there is no footage, it’s very hard to fight somebody when you don’t know what they do. We used to see that in the boxing world, and this wasn’t even in my lifetime. A guy would hold the belt for twelve years. If you take that in perspective, the way people watched boxing back then was by hovering over the transistor radio. Then video footage and the internet really changed sports, now it is musical chairs with the way titles change. The lack of footage is something Punk has on his side, but Gall is at a real gym with real guys and real goals and I don’t know if that can be said for Punk. Yes, he’s at a real gym and training with real partners, but does he have real goals? Punk is 37 years old, Gall is 24. And Punk is a star, so he’s taking all the media and Gall gets to buckle down and focus on the match. It’s going to be a fun fight, it’s going to be interesting, but regardless of the outcome, I would like Gall to have another fight, win or lose. I don’t know that Punk is going to have another fight. Even if he wins, I’m still not sure Punk isn’t done fighting. He doesn’t need the money and doesn’t need the fame, so he is such a compelling story.

My friendship with Punk started really by chance. I was on the phone with Gerry Brisco one day, and he said, ‘I’m standing next to CM Punk – he wants to say hello.’ That was really it. At some point, we exchanged numbers. I was fighting out of Chicago against Michael Bisping, and I sent Punk a message asking if he’d walk out to the ring with me. It ended up not working out, but we went to the weigh-ins together, and that was really how we hit it off.

SI.com: PodcastOne recently increased your podcast, “You’re Welcome! With Chael Sonnen”, to three days a week. What do you enjoy most about the show?

Sonnen: PodcastOne asked to go to three days a week, and I said yes. My box is only so big, and there are only so many things that I am passionate about, and I stay within those parameters. There are some really interesting people on, too, whether it’s people I admire or someone I am friends with that I know people will enjoy listening to. That’s been the part I get a kick out of—having people on, I’ve had a lot of pro wrestlers on that I grew up watching over the years, and that stuff is a lot of fun. I like comedy, so I get to have some comedians on, too. I was on the phone with Jon Lovitz on Thursday, and we talked for about an hour. I said, ‘Jon, you realize if you’d just said yes for the podcast, we have recorded this hour—this is the podcast.’

I’m having a lot of fun with the podcast, and so many things with work normally aren’t fun. People say, ‘Oh, I love doing that,’ but no, you hate doing it. Fighting was so grueling, and I loved it and have great memories, but when you’re in the thick of it, it’s anything but fun. It’s stressful. You’re losing weight, so you’re focused on your nutrition. You’re on a media tour, and you’re trying to get in your two workouts and trying to find a place to sleep in-between. It’s just a really tough process, but we were lying when we said how fun it is. It’s a terrible and rough lifestyle. Now I enjoy the podcast and look forward to it.

SI.com: Before your career with the UFC, you trained at WCW’s training facility – the Power Plant in Atlanta – in 1998 to become a pro wrestler. How grueling was the experience, and did anyone of note train you in Atlanta?

Sonnen: WCW had a three-day tryout in 1998, and the process was to work you hard for three days, and when you had enough, make you quit. If you could make it through the tryout, you’d have the chance to interview – but no one ever made it through the tryout. There were only a small handful of us – thirteen people – to start, and by the end second day, there were four of us. By the end of the second day, there were two of us. I went out there during the summer of my junior year in college, so I went back to finish school and get my degree, and then WCW went out of business. I never pursued it and went to the UFC instead.

Sarge [DeWayne Bruce] was running it, and Booker T and Bob Sapp were running through. Prince Iaukea was very involved and hands-on, and he was one of the guys who was really helpful. Most of the guys were trying to run you off – they saw future competition, so their mentality was to get rid of you now instead of getting rid of you later. It was tough. I was a Division I All-American in wrestling and couldn’t have been in better shape, and I still remember how hard it was. I was watching guys drop, and I was surprised they weren’t dropping faster.

SI.com: What should we look for in the Punk-Gall fight? And what is your prediction?

Sonnen: When I watched Punk train, I liked the way he attacked. I liked how busy he was with his jab, I like that he finished everything with a kick, I like the way he forces the clench and forces guys up against the fence. When he wasn’t attacking, and the guys were coming after him, I thought that it was a case of Punk’s best defense is a good offense. He started with jiu-jitsu, but I’m not certain he wants to go to the ground with Gall. I think Gall wants to be the one to take him there, so I’ll be looking to see if they’re standing up or they’re on the ground. If I were in Punk’s corner, I would feel a little more confident if he were standing. Punk really respects Anthony Pettis, and I know that he watches Pettis spar, and I’d like to see him standing up. That’s where he focused a lot of his attention, and Duke Roufus is such a good coach, and he is a puncher and a kicker. Punk has been one-on-one with Duke Roufus for the last two years—I would like to spend two hours with Roufus—and he knows what’s going on.

I think this is a pretty quick fight. The nerves are going to help lead to that. It’s Punk’s first time out there, and Gall is getting thrown right into a card with a fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, it’s a big deal. That would lend to both guys’ gas tanks emptying a little quicker, and I’ll give you one prediction: this is over in the first round.

In other news…

• Per Bovada.com, CM Punk is currently a +300 underdog. The favorite, Mickey Gall, is -400, which means you would have to risk $400 on Gall just to make $100.

•​ WrestleMania 32 will go down in the record books as the least effective ‘Mania of all time. Due to injuries (John Cena, Randy Orton, Seth Rollins) and poor booking (AJ Styles), the results have had zero impact. Two decisions in particular – booking Zack Ryder to win the Intercontinental title, which he lost the following night before a quick removal from the title picture, and the League of Nations defeating the New Day are particularly head-scratching.

•​ The Smackdown writing team did right with the backstage interaction between Daniel Bryan and The Miz. Bryan kept his cool and informed The Miz that he’ll be defending the IC title against Dolph Ziggler at Backlash, fulfilling his role as general manager and further squashing reports that WWE is bringing back Bryan for a match with Miz.

•​ ​Remember when The New Day was cool and cutting edge? Their “Old Day” segment from Monday is a new contender for worst Raw segment of all time. How did that segment possibly receive the green light?

•​ ​AJ Styles is beyond deserving of a run as WWE champion, but it will be a mistake for such a monumental moment to occur during Backlash. Styles’ coronation as champion should take place at the Survivor Series in November.

•​ ​By no means am I advocating for the return of year-long storylines and booking, but am I crazy to want more than a two-week buildup to a match between Charlotte and Bayley? Or a title match between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn? Don’t matches become slightly less special the more we see them?

•​ ​Don’t hold your breath, but now is the time to rip the suit off Cesaro and give him the opportunity to become Raw’s leading babyface. Why not give him the microphone and let him voice his genuine frustration? Raw is in dire need of a top face – Roman Reigns is clearly not the guy – and giving a chance to Cesaro would be far more beneficial than this change-the-channel worthy best-of-seven series with Sheamus.

•​ ​American Alpha will be great in time, but a Smackdown tag team title run this Sunday at Backash will feel incredibly rushed. Gallows and Anderson should have been drafted to Smackdown – which would have kept The Club in tact – and become the inaugural tag champs, while the Uso’s could have turned heel and started a program with The New Day on Raw.

•​ ​Congratulations to “The Villain” Marty Scurll, who captured Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s vaunted “Battle of Los Angeles.” The 28-year-old burgeoning British star defeated Lucha Underground’s Pentagon, Cody Rhodes and Mark Haskins before ending the hopes of both Will Ospreay and Trevor Lee in the triple threat finals.

•​ Kevin Owens will share his thoughts on the Universal championship, discuss his fundraising efforts with the Canadian Red Cross, and reveal his favorite wrestler not currently on the WWE roster next Wednesday in the Week in Wrestling.

Weekly Top 10 with The Young Bucks

Courtesy of The Young Bucks

The Young Bucks were victorious again this past weekend, defending their PWG tag team titles in a memorable encounter with Lucha Underground’s Pentagon Jr. and Fenix. The Bucks—Matt and Nick Jackson—wrestle primarily for Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, but have also traveled the world for the past twelve years in pursuit of the perfection of tag team wrestling. After their August 27th eight-man tag match in Brooklyn at ROH’s “Field of Honor,” Matt and Nick cooled down by discussing their top ten tag teams of all time.

The Bucks are busy pursuing the Ring of Honor tag team titles, currently worn by The Addiction’s Chris Daniels and Frankie Kazarian.

“We feel like we should have every tag title in the world,” said Nick, definitely including the Ring of Honor world tag titles.”

The Bucks are also chasing history in Japan. New Japan Pro Wrestling breaks its tag team into two divisions—heavyweight and junior heavyweight – and, although the Bucks are happy with the current reign as junior heavyweight tag team champions—the five-time champs have their goals set on dethroning the Briscoe Brothers, the current IWGP heavyweight tag champions, on September 22nd at “Destruction in Hiroshima,” and unifying the tag team championships in New Japan.

“We’ve been pushing this without anyone from New Japan telling us that we’re able to push this,” said Nick. “We’re just doing it on our own, trying to create something. It’s got to the point where fans understand that we don’t just want to be juniors. We want to be champions, regardless of size difference or weight. We do that all over the world, so why is it different in Japan? New Japan is strict with their rules, and we’re trying to break those rules a little bit.”

Matt Jackson agreed that the Bucks would add an entirely different style and flair to the heavyweight tag titles.

“It’s 2016,” said Matt. “The heavyweights are our size. There are a couple big guys, but most of the heavyweights could wrestle with the juniors, so why are we wrestling in this weight class?

“If it was our choice, then yes, we’d unify the belts. I think the juniors are going to be around still, the junior tag team titles will still be around, but we’re still hoping to hold all the belts. Selfishly, I want us to have all of them. We want every tag team title in the world, and we mean that. That’s a shoot.”

The Bucks mentioned Finn Bálor (Fergal Devitt), AJ Styles, and Kenny Omega as three examples of light heavyweights who have dominated in a world of giants.

“Devitt was the first guy to break through from junior to heavyweight,” said Nick. “He was going to get that push until he left, and that’s the push that Kenny has now. With his G1 Climax win, Kenny Omega is now the number one singles wrestler and all around performer in all of wrestling.”

Bálor, Styles, and Omega—like the Bucks—are all affiliated with the Bullet Club.

“We’ve been the OG since five months in, and a lot of people don’t give us that credit,” said Nick.

“Some people think the real Bullet Club is in WWE, but it’s in Japan – that’s where it originated,” added Matt. “The WWE is the corporate version, even though we still support those guys because they are our buddies. The Bullet Club is everywhere. Kenny had success with the G1, AJ beat John Cena, Fergal won the title, and we’re all killing it here – Hangman [Page] just got the win of his life over Jay Briscoe, and it shows that the Bullet Club is this super stable. We’re the most successful stable in wrestling history. From day one, we knew we wanted to take over this industry. That hand signal? That’s Bullet Club’s now. People say, ‘That’s NWO,’ but sorry now it belongs to the Bullet Club.”

As for the top ten tag teams, the Bucks decided on discussing teams from the WrestleMania era of wrestling, and based the foundation of their list off popularity and money generated from a team’s work as a duo, as well as its influence on the business. They also were particularly hard on the younger tag teams in wrestling, stressing that this is a business where performers must continually prove themselves.

“No disrespect to all of these new tag teams, but you’ve got to put in your time and you need to wrestle all over the world,” said Matt. “You need to wrestle different teams, different styles – with an agent, without an agent.”

The Bucks also admitted they were omitting some great teams (“We’re missing the British Bulldogs and the New Age Outlaws, and even Triple H and Shawn Michaels—as well as Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart,” said Matt), and added that the list could soon include Luke Gallows and Karl “Machine Gun” Anderson.

“Gallows and Gun are chasing that now,” said Nick. “They’re going to be the tag champs, eventually, and it’s crazy that they’ll have had runs as tag champs in New Japan and WWE. Teams like The Revival, if they stay together, and American Alpha will be up there, too. But for now, these are our top ten.”

The Young Bucks’ Top 10 Tag Teams of All Time

Honorable mention: The Steiner Brothers (Rick and Scott Steiner); The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson); Los Guerreros (Eddie Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero); Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero and Beretta); Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi; and The Kings of Wrestling (Claudio [Cesaro] Castagnoli and Chris Hero)

10.) Tie: The Addiction – Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian & reDRagon – Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly

“Chris and Frankie are incredible, but you know who could replace them?” asked Matt. “reDRagon. Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly are just so friggin’ good, but we’ll see if they continue as a tag team or go with singles.”

9.) The Motor City Machine Guns – Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley

“Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley are amazing,” said Nick. “Any list of greatest tag teams needs to include the Motor City Machine Guns in the top ten.”

8.) The Briscoe Brothers – Jay and Mark Briscoe

“The Briscoes are one of the greatest teams of all time,” said Nick. The Briscoe Brothers – who are eight-time Ring of Honor tag team champions – are also the current IWGP heavyweight tag team champions, and will put their titles on the line against the Bucks on September 22 in Hiroshima.

7.) Tie: The Brain Busters – Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard & Edge and Christian

“The Brian Busters are just so underrated,” said Matt. “I watch their matches and I’m amazed – they could work just as well with the Rockers as they could Demolition.”

As for Edge and Christian, Nick added, “Those are two Hall of Famers who were extremely influential in tag wrestling and have to be included.”

6.) The Hart Foundation – Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart

“The Hart Foundation need to be on this list,” said Nick. “They’re some of the best old school tag team wrestling ever.”

5.) The Rockers – Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty

“The Rockers were such an influence on me and so many other tag teams to this day,” said Matt. “And the Rockers would probably say Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, so we probably should have had them on this list, too. Teams like The Revival, if they stick together for at least five more years, will also be on this list – and they’re similar to the Rockers. I saw the Revival’s match with [Johnny] Gargano and [Tommaso] Ciampa, and it was friggin’ awesome. They’re old school tag team wrestling – they’re using old psychology and everything is tandems. That’s the same way we work – when Nick is in the ring, I’m in the ring too, and I love that. That’s straight from the Rockers.”

4.) The Dudley Boyz

“They are awesome in-ring,” said Nick. “We had a blast working with them last summer in House of Hardcore, and I’m sure it will happen somewhere again.”

3.) The Road Warriors

“We’re talking the most money generated and most popularity as a team,” said Nick, “and the Road Warriors are easily top three of all time.”

2.) The Young Bucks

 “We’re the number two tag team ever,” said Nick. “We have the confidence in our in-ring ability, and we feel we’ve helped influence a whole different style to tag team wrestling. When it’s all said and done, we think we have what it takes to be the number two tag team of all time.”

1.) The Hardy Boys

“How do you measure success?” asked Matt Jackson. “It’s by dollars earned, and the Hardys are number one, by far. “

Nick added, “When we’re with the Hardys, we see them get recognized literally everywhere.”

Nick’s comment gave Matt instant flashbacks to a recent wrestling excursion to Santiago, Chile.

“We were in the middle of Santiago, Chile, and all we heard was, ‘Hardy Boys! Hardy Boys!’” said Matt. “We were in a temple with them in Santiago, we climbed a mountain with them, and people still recognized the Hardys. They’re definitely number one.”

The Wrestlers’ Tribune: Mark Andrews

Courtesy of Mark Andrews

Mark Andrews wrestles as Mandrews in TNA, and the 24-year-old native of the United Kingdom is extremely passionate about independent wrestling. Originally known as “The Lightning Kid,” Mandrews also wrestles with Chikara, Progress Wrestling, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla in addition to TNA. He dazzled with his performance this past weekend at PWG’s “Battle of Los Angeles,” defeating Pete Dunne and Chris Hero before falling victim to Trevor Lee in the semi-finals. Andrews now takes readers behind the PWG curtain and shares his experience with Sports Illustrated.

California Dreamin’

Last Thursday I boarded a plane at Heathrow Airport in London, and mentally prepared myself for the weekend ahead of me. For the second time in my career, I would attempt to win Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s annual tournament, the Battle of Los Angeles.

After fifteen hours of traveling and jet lag inevitably waiting to creep up on me, I landed in LAX Airport ready for what die-hard wrestling fans consider the biggest tournament in professional wrestling.

The title of “the biggest tournament in professional wrestling” is a big statement to make, and I’m sure that someone less involved in the independent wrestling world would be shocked to see that this prestigious tournament is held in an American Legion Hall in front of 400 fans chugging beer and screaming their lungs out.

But, these aren’t just normal fans. These are the most loyal and passionate fans that exist within the world of pro wrestling. Traveling from all across the world to witness the tournament live, the fans that attend the three day event are considered the lucky ones who were able to grab a ticket before it quickly sold out months before.

After these lucky few wait patiently for hours outside the American Legion Hall, queuing up to find the best seat they can, the doors open up to something that is so much more than just another independent wrestling show.

The company’s production insists on having the bare bones of what a wrestling show needs: a ring, a curtain, and hundreds of chairs. Unlike any other wrestling company with the platform the size of Guerrilla’s – there is absolutely nothing else there to distract or compensate for the in-ring performances. No camera tricks, no fancy lights, or pyro. Just the wrestlers who have been invited to perform, and everything they have to give to the fans. Everything this company offers is about the art of wrestling, and that is what makes it so special.

This year was the twelfth annual tournament the company has held and, just like the years before, it featured the best talent the world could offer. Japanese legend Jushin Thunder Liger, former WWE Intercontinental and tag team champion Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, and a locker room full of wrestlers currently a part of promotions such as New Japan Pro Wrestling, TNA Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground, CMLL and WWE’s NXT.    

Nowhere else in the world would you find such a diverse roster of the hottest prospects from America, Canada, the U.K., Japan, Mexico, and Europe. This allows for so many matches that cannot be achieved in “the big leagues” due to contractual terms, and this unintentionally turns BOLA into the biggest cross-promotional event in pro wrestling.

In last year’s BOLA, I made my PWG debut along with fellow Brits, Marty Scurll and William Ospreay. Between us, as well as Tommy End, Drew Galloway and Zack Sabre Jr., we had a pretty good group there to represent Europe. Although we realized the importance of the opportunity we’d been given at the time, I don’t think we quite knew just how much that weekend would affect the next year of our careers.

The matches we had that weekend put us on the map and gave us all the exposure we needed to make an impact worldwide. Sure, we’d all had exposure from various bigger companies previously in our careers, but PWG is different. PWG is not your typical “bigger company” – if anything, the physical size of the show would make it a smaller company. However, it is the one that creates the biggest impression on the wrestling world, bar none.

A year later, we are regulars for the crowd in Reseda, and Zack Sabre is the current world champion for the company. Within the space of a year, Ospreay and Scurll have gone from their PWG debuts all the way to meeting each other in the final of the tournament to decide the winner of BOLA 2016.

The tournament saw a ton of first-time dream matches that had never happened before, and also gave the audience an opportunity to see rematches of highly acclaimed bouts that had happened outside of US soil. Due to the nature of the tournament’s structure, the excitement from the crowd comes not just from the action in the ring, but also the uncertainty of what matchups could potentially happen. I’d hear fans before the shows talking about what matches they hoped would happen – and being genuinely excited for the result of each match and the conclusion of the weekend – which is something that is very rare to find in 2016.

After almost breaking the Internet with their match in New Japan Pro Wrestling earlier this year, Will Ospreay and Ricochet found themselves against one another in a rematch on day three, but this time, in a PWG ring. The intimacy of the venue and the energy the crowd brings to the show is really what makes these shows so incredible, and it’s exactly what separates a PWG match from a bout with the same competitors battling each other anywhere else in the world.

Something else that makes PWG so special is the morale of the locker room backstage. The outlook that the company has makes it so easy for everyone backstage to feel motivated to do their absolute best, and constantly reminds me why I love this industry. It’s more than just wanting each other to do our best. It’s a collective consciousness that wants to break the boundaries of what conventional wrestling offers.

In my second-round match, I had the opportunity to face Chris Hero for the second time this year. We first wrestled each other several months ago in London at PROGRESS Wrestling, which became one of my favorite matches. After a huge upset against Hero, I advanced to round three, facing off against Trevor Lee, where unfortunately my weekend would end. Trevor would go on to wrestle Scurll and Ospreay in the finals of the tournament, ending a long weekend of 25+ matches, in a match that displayed just how talented all three of these athletes are.

To have a good match isn’t a rarity in PWG, especially at BOLA, but to consistently wrestle three matches at such a high standard within the same day is something all three of these men achieved. However, this weekend wasn’t just an exhibition for the wrestlers already appreciated for their talents worldwide. This is also an opportunity for wrestling’s next up-and-comers and best-kept secrets to show the world why they should be there.

Pete Dunne and Mark Haskins joined Team UK this year and were brought in to make their debuts. It was great to see Haskins make such a strong impression on the company, having three incredible matches and almost making it to the final. However, the most memorable moment of the weekend for me was getting to step in the ring with Pete Dunne.

Pete is someone who I met ten years ago when first starting out in wrestling, before quickly becoming best friends. We’ve traveled the world together learning our craft, and getting to lock horns with each other in his debut for the company meant that we’d come full circle from the first match that we had ten years earlier. It was no surprise to see the crowd had done their research and were big fans of both, helping put our names on the map, resembling what myself, Ospreay, and Scurll had experienced the year before.

As I begin another fifteen-hour journey back home to the UK, sleep deprived and feeling like I’ve been hit by a ton of bricks, I feel incredibly proud to be a part of what happened in Reseda this past weekend. It’s one thing to be able to experience flying across the globe to perform in front of such an incredibly passionate crowd, but for my friends and I to be considered for an event which is held in such high regard, sharing a ring and trading our craft with the most talented wrestlers on the planet, is something that we’d hoped to achieve ever since we stepped into the squared circle for the first time.

I can’t wait to see what the next year brings for everyone who performed in BOLA this year. But most importantly, I can’t wait to come back to Reseda.

~ Mark Andrews

Mark Andrews wrestles on Impact Wrestling every Thursday on Pop TV, and his performance in the PWG BOLA will soon be available for purchase at ProWrestlingGuerrilla.com.

Tweet of the Week

Inspirational words from (The New) “Face that Runs the Place.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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