One Year at the Dojo: A look at the inaugural year of CZW’s Dojo Wars series
May 27, 2015
By: Jason Namako of Wrestleview.com
Last May, Combat Zone Wrestling, known (to some to a fault) in their 15-year history for their ultraviolent deathmatches, began preparing for the long-term future of the company by starting up a concept called Dojo Wars. Dojo Wars began on May 21, 2014 and started as a bi-weekly show, where every 2 weeks, students from the CZW Academy, alongside a few CZW main roster talent and outside talent from the Tri-State area, would compete in a 5 to 6 match show, which would then be posted on CZW’s YouTube channel for diehard CZW fans and other casual indy fans to check out their development, free of charge. Since its inception, Dojo Wars has been the brainchild of longtime CZW performer Drew Gulak, one of the main trainers at the CZW Academy, done with the blessing of CZW Owner DJ Hyde. Alongside the help of CZW Academy trainer The Preacher, veteran indy wrestler Ace Delic and longtime independent performer and independent horror movie director Rob Dimension, as well as many others part of the CZW roster, Drew has been able to see the Dojo Wars concept grow in the span of its first year, as well as the development and improvement of the students he has trained.
With Dojo Wars being in close proximity to my residence in South New Jersey, I have been fortunate enough to go see a number of their shows over the last year and every time I leave the CZW Academy, where all Dojo Wars shows are held, to head on home, I find myself leaving more and more impressed with the matches put on by the talent, but more so, the development and improvement of not just the CZW Academy students, but also the CZW main roster talent & outside talent brought in.
I first must start with the CZW Academy students and their development over Dojo Wars’ inaugural year.
1. Conor Claxton
Now known as “Wrench” in CZW main roster stable The Nation of Intoxication alongside Danny Havoc, Devon Moore & Lucky 13, Conor has grown a great deal over the last year into being a good all-around performer, who can do both pure, mat wrestling, as well as the ultraviolent style, making him a unique, rare hybrid of performer that brings some freshness to the CZW main roster. From the opening matches at the first chunk of Dojo Wars shows against fellow Academy student Frankie Pickard, to winning Dojo Wars’ lone championship, the Medal of Valor, holding that title as of this writing, Conor, along with a few others, who I’ll get into, have shown with their development and improvement over the last year, what the Dojo Wars concept is all about. To get these students regular work with each other and with veteran talent so they can learn and get better. Conor, when all is said and done, I feel will be right up there with past CZW Academy graduates Adam Cole (former ROH Champion) and Kimber Lee (currently holding all 3 major women’s wrestling tag team titles) as one of the most successful graduates churned out by the Academy.
2. Frankie Pickard
Part of the first match in Dojo Wars’ history with Conor Claxton and subsequent opening bouts in the first half of the Dojo Wars series, Frankie, while his ascension has not gone as fast as Conor’s has, in terms of going up to the main CZW roster, doesn’t mean that Frankie hasn’t developed a great deal over the last year. Quite the contrary, Frankie, whose build and look remind me a lot of past legends like Bobo Brazil and Iceman King Parsons, has grown into a good, solid babyface performer who shows a ton of technical prowess. With a little more sizzle and pizzazz added to Frankie’s character and look, I’m as sure as anything that when I do the Year 2 look back of Dojo Wars this time next year, that Frankie will be making some waves on the CZW main roster because his talent is there and his ceiling is as high as anyone’s.
3. Brittany Blake
While Conor & Frankie have had a pretty smooth road of things over the first year of Dojo Wars, Brittany’s road has seen a couple bumps over time, although as the first year of Dojo Wars concluded, the road is back on that smooth track. Early on in the Dojo Wars series, Brittany put on impressive performances against CZW main roster talent such as Academy graduate Kimber Lee and even the boss himself, DJ Hyde, pinning him on the inaugural show. With her unique Lita-esque style look and background as a cosplayer, which has done wonders for independent women’s wrestling veteran, Leva Bates, Brittany very quickly became one of Dojo Wars’ most popular performers. However, once we got to the 6-month mark of the Dojo Wars’ series, Brittany’s performances seemed to hit a snag in the path. There would be a good performance, then a not so good, then a good again, then another not good one, it just seemed like the consistency of performances hit that bump in the road, which is something that can very easily happen to a young performer in their infancy and where they can lose a bit of confidence in themselves. Fortunately, Brittany was able to get back on the horse and on one cold night in March against CZW Wired Champion Joe Gacy, everything clicked back into place as Brittany & Gacy put on one of the best matches in Dojo Wars’ young history. Ever since that night, Brittany has shown strides in improvement by the show in Dojo Wars and that has churned into a main roster spot in CZW’s women’s company, WSU, performing well so far in their Spirit Title tournament. Even though the way to get to the finish line of Dojo Wars’ first year had some twists and turns and near spin-outs, Brittany’s improvement in the last few months and high ceiling of potential going forward is yet another example of what the Dojo Wars concept is all about. See nothing but clear blue skies in young Brittany’s future as a performer.
4. Dan O’Hare
“The Big Scare” of Dojo Wars as seen a ton of improvement in a very short time. Coming in at around the end of the first half of Dojo Wars, O’Hare has quickly developed into a very solid big-man performer. O’Hare’s biggest test was a Medal of Valor opportunity very recently against Conor Claxton at Dojo Wars one-year anniversary show and that’s where O’Hare had his finest outing to date. While in terms of age, O’Hare is on the high-end, compared to other Academy students, his future as a powerhouse potentially on the CZW main roster is very bright.
5. The Dub Boys
The rare package deal of Dojo Wars, Dave McCall & Nate Carter, have been around the Combat Zone for a number of years, but Dojo Wars allowed them to showcase what they can do in the ring, both as singles performers and more notably, as a tag-team. Their brash, smash-mouth style as performers quickly grew on fans of Dojo Wars and their impressive outings garnered them a spot as bodyguards for CZW main roster talent, Alexander James as The Revelation. Even though they are used in a minimal capacity on the main roster as of now, I see big things in the future for the Dub Boys as a big-time babyface tag-team on the CZW main roster going forward.
Dojo Wars really allowed for the CZW Academy students to shine and make names for themselves in the first year, including guys and gals I didn’t mention above like Andrew Wolf, Brooke Danielle and others.
However, at the same time, Dojo Wars didn’t just help the Academy students get regular work so they can improve, the same can be said for CZW main roster talent and outside talent that used the Dojo Wars concept as a way to get themselves noticed and put on the CZW main roster, or as a way to give them that medium where they can re-invigorate themselves and go onto bigger and better things. Dojo Wars helped out many who were looking for those things and a few really stood out from the rest.
1. Joe Gacy
“The Chainsaw” is a longtime CZW performer who at the beginning of Dojo Wars, had just started to get on the right path as a performer after a long time of trying to find himself and looking for the right thing to click. Gacy’s early matches at Dojo Wars with Qefka the Quiet and short rivalry over the Wired Title with Shane Strickland gave Gacy that jumpstart as an in-ring performer and since that time, Gacy has turned into one of the consistently solid performers on the CZW roster, currently brandishing a lengthy reign with the Wired Title and having stand-out matches on shows with the likes of Mike Bailey, John Silver and others, while still defending the title on Dojo Wars shows and being the very definition of a fighting champion. I truly feel Dojo Wars gave Gacy that long-sought after thing he was looking for to re-ignite his career. Gacy is just getting started, as very soon, CZW will not just be the only place fans will see him, have firm belief that one year from now, other independents will be wanting to showcase “The Chainsaw” and that’s all thanks to the improvement shown in Dojo Wars.
2. Joey Janela
“The Bad Boy” of the Tri-State independent scene came into Dojo Wars towards the end of the first half, looking to make a name for himself and he has done just that. Janela very quickly became one of the Dojo Wars’ fans favorites to watch, even though Janela was true to his word as a “Bad Boy.” Janela’s performances with the likes of CZW main roster talent Joe Gacy & Sozio, to the Academy students, to other outside talent like New Jersey independent promotion On Point Wrestling’s Matt McIntosh, made Janela one of the most consistent performers on Dojo Wars shows towards the end of the first year and garnered him a spot on the CZW main roster, notably the annual Best of the Best tournament in April. Janela also has racked up impressive performances in On Point Wrestling recently, notably against Joe Gacy and Texas independent performer Scot Summers, making him as of this writing, one of the Tri-State area most popular performers with the cult following that has swirled around him. That speaks to the talent Janela has a performer and the concept Dojo Wars has allowed him to get his name out there on a regular basis. Don’t be surprised if you see Janela at other top independents by the end of this year, the guy is that good and is the most complete performer that Dojo Wars has been able to showcase in their short history.
3. Josh Adams
Its been an interesting tale of two halves of Dojo Wars’ first year for the New Jersey independent wrestling veteran. Adams started off by doing a different character every single Dojo Wars show, going down the alphabet, with such characters as Devious Diego, Kinky Kenneth and Seductive Sebastian just to name a few. Every single character was different and unique and was able to show Adams’ range as a performer. However recently, Adams has gone under his original name, bringing a hard-hitting, no-nonsense style of match, on a mission against the young Academy students, brandishing a very unique submission called the Flat Crab. While Adams was very entertaining with his barrage of personas in Dojo Wars’ first half, his rebirth as a performer in the second half to something more true to himself has been very impressive and shows some real good potential for a future call-up to the CZW main roster. Time will tell if that takes place, but Adams’ range as a performer over the last year in Dojo Wars definitely garners that opportunity for him to sink or swim.
4. Ryan Galeone
Galeone, who is known more for his work in New England independent promotion Beyond Wrestling and trained by former WWE star Curt Hawkins, came barreling into Dojo Wars at the end of the first half and opened a lot of eyes with his dominating presence and performances, going all the way to the Finals of the Medal of Valor tournament, before falling in defeat to Conor Claxton. Since then, Galeone brushed himself off and continued to put on impressive performances, garnering him a CZW main roster spot as part of the Front stable. Galeone, with his height advantage and unique combination of power and striking ability, shows a lot of potential as a imposing heel performer on the CZW main roster and Dojo Wars being his playground to showcase himself allowed for eyes to be opened to just what Galeone can do and what he can be in the future.
5. Rex Lawless
Another big-man performer from the New England area, Lawless came into Dojo Wars at the end of the first half and while he was very impressive with his performances in the ring, Lawless’ improvement came more so with the development of his character, bringing out a lot of trash talk in his matches and getting to show personality, instead of being your prototypical muscled-up big man who just does power moves. Dojo Wars allowed Lawless to break out of his shell a good deal and with that, it garnered him a CZW main roster spot as the younger, but bigger, brother of John Silver in the Beaver Boys tag-team alongside Alex Reynolds. Lawless shows a lot of potential on not just the CZW main roster, but in other independent promotions as well by the end of the year. When you can work as well as talk and have the size that Lawless has, very few promotions are gonna be willing to turn that down.
Dojo Wars gave that launching pad to a lot of main roster & outside talent in its first year. Have to also include the likes of Sozio, Trooper Audubon, Qefka the Quiet, Stockade, Kit Osbourne and many others in that discussion as well. Just goes to show that the main idea of Dojo Wars is for the Academy students to learn and grow, but at the same time, it helped out of established names be able to try out different things and re-ignite themselves.
Now, as Dojo Wars goes to its second year, its time to look at the newer Academy students and outside talent you may wanna keep your eye on over the next year.
1. Curt Robinson
While he may be the youngest member of the CZW Academy at still being a teenager, Robinson, in his performances thus far in Dojo Wars since starting in the second half, has shown a scary amount of potential and quick amount of development for someone as young as he is. If Robinson is developing at a breakneck pace this early and still a ways away from turning 18 years of age, the ceiling he has as a performer down the line is about as high as any prospect out there right now. Keep your eyes peeled on this kid, reminds me a lot of a young Bob Backlund and that is about as good of a comparison you can ask for.
2. George Gatton
A longtime fan of CZW, Gatton decided he try his hand at becoming a wrestler last year and became part of Dojo Wars in the second half. While there is still a lot of work and seasoning needed to be done for Gatton, the one thing he brings that you can’t teach and allows for fans and fellow peers to want to see him succeed, is his passion for wrestling and his copious amounts of heart, which were especially shown in recent student vs. teacher matches he had with Drew Gulak. Gatton still has a ways to go in terms of development, but you can see the building blocks there for him to become a solid pro wrestler.
3. Penelope Ford
The newest female prospect in Dojo Wars showed up in the second half and showed slow, but steady improvement by the performance. While she has not been a part of the more recent Dojo Wars shows, you could see Ford had an aptitude for learning new things and wanting to improve. If and when she does return to Dojo Wars for its second year, Ford shows a lot of potential for a possible WSU spot down the line.
4. Lennon Duffy
An outside talent who began showing up on CZW shows in the second half and quickly impressed with his aptitude for being a babyface performer, showcasing lots of fire and very nice selling ability. Was very impressed by Duffy’s work and if he keeps up regular work for Dojo Wars in their second year, he could very well earn himself a main CZW roster spot by the beginning of 2016.
5. Chazz Glamrock
Glamrock showed up at the very end of the first year of Dojo Wars and while he’s only had a couple of outings so far, his over-the-top rock & roll character and impressive look shows a great deal of potential for Glamrock in Dojo Wars going forward, as long as Glamrock continues to appear on Dojo Wars shows on a more regular basis.
The final thing I want to comment on for Dojo Wars is what I consider the top 5 matches in their short history.
1. Conor Claxton vs. Ryan Gaelone – Medal of Valor Finals – Dojo Wars 14:
From an impactful standpoint, the most important match in Dojo Wars short history so far with Conor’s win as the first Champion of Valor, overcoming the onslaught of the dominant Galeone, who mowed over his opponents on his way to the Finals. Very good dramatic stuff.
2. Brittany Blake vs. Joe Gacy – CZW Wired Title – Dojo Wars 22:
The match that turned around things for Blake as a performer and on a bigger scale, showed that when done correctly, inter-gender wrestling can be a damn good concept in pro wrestling as long as folks allow it to be. While Claxton vs. Galeone is more important to Dojo Wars’ history, this match is the one I consider the best from a match standpoint so far in Dojo Wars. Go out of your way to see this once it eventually hits YouTube.
3. Joe Gacy vs. Joey Janela – NO DQ Match for CZW Wired Title – Dojo Wars 18:
While these two would go on to have a fantastic match for On Point Wrestling just a month later, this blow-off to their Dojo Wars rivalry was just as good and really opened eyes to just how good Janela is. A great start to what has been damn good 2015’s for both Gacy & Janela so far, once again, go out of your way to see this match once it eventually hits YouTube.
4. Tracy Williams & GULAK vs. George Gatton & Curt Robinson – Dojo Wars 26:
Your classic teacher vs. student battle in a tag-team setting that served as a brutal initation for Robinson & Gatton, but the heart and determination they showed in defeat against veterans in GULAK & Williams allowed for this match to crack the top 5. Real good, hard-hitting match with a great story.
5. Joey Janela vs. Matt McIntosh – Dojo Wars 23:
Two Tri-State area performers going out there and having a very good, hard-hitting match that showcased Janela’s ascension as a performer, while at the same time, gave some shine to McIntosh, who had been making some waves in On Point Wrestling over the last few months. Hopefully, McIntosh sees regular work in not just Dojo Wars, but CZW going forward as I was very impressed with his performance in this match. Once this hits YouTube, so check it out.
As Dojo Wars goes into its second year, there’s a lot of things CZW fans can look back on for its first year and what they have in the pipeline for their second year and be very excited for the long-term future of the company going forward. The folks behind Dojo Wars, from Drew Gulak to Preacher to Ace Delic to Rob Dimension, to the many CZW performers who pitch in and help out and finally, to CZW Owner DJ Hyde, should be very proud of the Dojo Wars shows they have put on in their first year, the students they have teached and helped grow into better performers for the future and what they themselves have done for the long-term viability of CZW as an independent wrestling promotion, continuing to make the old, tired argument by indy wrestling critics that they are nothing but a deathmatch company, look more and more wrong by the day.
Have been very privileged to follow along the journey of the Dojo Wars series over the last year and am looking forward to continuing to see its progression, the continued development and improvement of the performers and the future take shape for CZW overall going forward.
If you are in the Tri-State area and want to check out some solid, weekly independent wrestling, be sure to check out Dojo Wars, every Wednesday at the CZW Academy in Blackwood, New Jersey. For those outside the Tri-State area and want to check this stuff out, all Dojo Wars matches go up on CZW’s YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/czwrestling.
Hope you all enjoyed this look at CZW’s Dojo Wars series. See you at the matches!
Jason Namako covers independent wrestling on a daily basis, as well as recaps and reviews of ROH, NXT, Lucha Underground, New Japan and more for Wrestleview.com.