DAMAGE INC. WRESTLING
Dec. 11, 2021
UAW Teamsters Hall, Rockford, IL
By Dr. Abner Mality
Scott Spade and Tiny
When it comes to rasslin’, nothing can beat a local show in your own hometown. Shows have been scarce in Rockford for a long, long time. Time was, when the AWA hit Boylan High School once a month with the biggest stars of the day. But that was long ago. In recent decades, only the occasional once a year visit from WWE has been the only wrestling the once fertile Rockford scene has experienced. And as any real wrestling fan can tell you, a house show by WWE is about as dull and predictable as it gets.
Some have tried to revive the local wrestling scene. I remember an outfit called Stateline Wrestling had a show in Loves Park with Rhyno and Sabu, but didn’t draw much of a crowd. Another group called Project Forest City Wrestling ran some shows at the same Teamsters Hall that I attended tonight’s Damage Inc. card at. But that, too, fizzled out. It’s hard to see a once thriving wrestling town go dry.
Now a new outfit called Damage Inc. Wrestling is trying their hand at a revival of the old tradition. The guiding forces behind the promotion are local businessman Steve Eisman and Rockford native/wrestling valet/blond bombshell Gorgeous George. These folks have got some advertising and money behind them and have even attracted some “name” wrestlers to their organization. I missed their debut card in October, but made up my mind to see their second exhibition on Dec. 11. That decision was made a lot easier when I saw one of my all-time favorites, Rhyno, was on the card.
The current pro wrestling landscape in the US is indeed a peculiar beast. In some aspects, it is still grappling (pun intended) with the effects of the Covid plague which put a stop to almost everything for almost two years.WWE is still the giant behemoth that dominates the landscape, but they now have real competition from another billionaire’s promotion, AEW. WWE has fired a ton of guys this year, flooding the market with a bucketload of free agents. It looks like long time promotion ROH has called it quits, putting yet more guys on the market. But all new “super indy” promotions like Game Changer Wrestling and AAW are making their mark and picking up the slack. The independent wrestling scene, despite all the hardships, is thriving.
Mongo and Kyzyle
This is the landscape that Damage Inc. finds itself operating in. At least they seem to realize that to make money, you have to spend money. LOTS of advertising for their shows...they got some radio and TV coverage in addition to lots of social media. And they also use plain old-fashioned pounding the pavement by putting up posters. So that end of it seems to be well covered. For more insight into what goes into Damage Inc., check out my interview with promoter Steve Eisman at the end of this article.
The proof lies in the product itself. So I made my way down to the drafty Teamsters Hall on a Saturday night in December to see what Damage Inc. was all about…
It was apparent right off the bat that this was going to be a well attended show. Parking lot was almost full with 20 minutes to go before belltime. That’s always a good sign. It was also apparent that this was not the “smart mark” type of indy wrestling show you find in Chicago, with hipsters and “insiders” making up the majority of the crowd and looking for “workrate” from the wrestlers. The folks in the crowd reminded me of the ones who went to the Boylan AWA shows many years ago...lots of working class families and tons of kids in the audience.
The card started about 15 minutes late, which also reminded me of Boylan days. Another throwback came in the form of ring announcer Mr. Riccolo, who looked like he came from a Howard Johnson’s hotel lounge circa 1978. The guy was a pro, though, and vigorously pushed the merch tables, the food and the 50/50 raffle going on throughout the evening.
The first match was a tag team bout and we were told the winners would be the first Damage Inc. tag team champions. The team of Mongo and Kyzyle went up against the Irish Pub Army of Meathooks O’Bannon and Kavan O’Reilly. Already there were unplanned shenanigans, as all the online buildup to the show said that Kyzyle would be facing Mongo in a match. But here they were partners? This was the first of several inconsistencies between the buildup and the actual show.
This was a physical, hard-hitting bout between two teams of big boys. The IPA are a couple of beefy fellows wearing kilts who threw their weight around with abandon. While not weighing as much, Mongo and Kyzyle were also burly fellows. Mongo barks like a dog and is built like a tank, while Kyzyle sports wild hair and Alice Cooper style makeup. Thunderous chops and bodyslams were exchanged by both teams, but in the end, Mongo and Kyzyle got their hands raised and received the belts. Out of these four, I would keep my eyes on Mongo...he looks like he could mix it up with anybody.
Next up was a match between Santa Claus and The Grinch. Seriously. Bryan Harley was Santa complete with fake beard and full regalia while the goofily named Norman Frankenstein wore a ridiculous green Grinch outfit. This match was purely for the kiddies in the audience and didn’t amount to much, with Santa getting a quick win. I would have been secretly pleased to see the Grinch win instead. The kid-oriented aspect of this match contrasted greatly with the violent bloody mayhem of the later tag match between Masada and Axel Rico and the C&C Destruction Company.
The Masked Marauder from Cuba (possibly Cuba City, Wisconsin) was the next grappler through the curtains, waving a big Cuban flag, which made him instantly unpopular. His opponent was Nikki Vendetta, announced as being from Ecuador, which was different. Nikki was a handsome young fellow and instantly popular with the girls. These are a couple of guys just getting their start in the business. Nikki tried some high flying offense but his timing was off on a couple of moves. In an outcome that surprised me, the Marauder got the win after grabbing the tights. That trick is old but effective. Nikki should continue to get reps in and polish his work...he certainly has “the look”.
The Grinch says hello...
RHYNO coming through...
Probably the biggest draw of the night, at least for me, was the appearance of the War Machine Rhyno on the card. He is one of the few ECW originals still working regularly and the amount of miles this guy has traveled in his career has got to be staggering. He’s the epitome of the big bruiser and he can work equally well as monster heel or rugged babyface. Currently he’s getting a lot of exposure in Impact Wrestling, where’s feuding with Eric Young’s Violent By Design faction. So when he pops up at the Teamster’s Hall in south Rockford, a real wrestling fan takes notice.
Surprisingly Rhyno’s match tonight was in the middle of the card. He was taking on Scott Spade, a long time veteran of the Midwest indy scene and a tough customer himself. Rhyno got a huge pop coming to the ring to his Impact theme music. Spade had the good taste to come to the ring accompanied by CANNIBAL CORPSE’s music. Spade was accompanied by his “bodyguard”, the very ironically named Tiny. Mr. Tiny was announced as being “six foot twelve inches tall”, otherwise known as seven feet and looked like it. His presence promised some shenanigans during the bout.
This was a pretty basic big man bout, with Rhyno often outmuscling his opponent but getting behind the 8 ball due to foul tactics, including Tiny slipping Spade some kind of foreign object. The kids loved Rhyno. The War Machine finally got the win over Spade after using his patented “Gore” move. Rhyno stuck around after the match and really seemed to enjoy interacting with the fans. I hope he becomes a permanent fixture for Damage Inc.
We got an intermission next, during which Mr. Riccolo practically hammerlocked the audience and forced them to get popcorn, hamburgers, tacos, etc as well as buying raffle tickets. The crowd was informed that the next card would be February 12 and would feature the debuts of women’s wrestler Christina Von Eerie and Silas Young, formerly of ROH. Silas is a great pickup for the promotion!
George and Bobcat, the Blond Bombshells
It was time for tag team action when we got back to business. Moondog Maynard and Axel Abreyu squared off against the experienced team of Chase Stevens and Micah Taylor. Now here was another example of sloppiness in booking, as all the social media before the matches indicated that Stevens and Taylor would be facing each other in a singles match. But now they were partners and both heels to boot? I was surprised to see Stevens going the heel route, as he often makes for a very good babyface. He’s had some good exposure in the past, including a run with the TNA tag team titles...a good hand to have on any card. Taylor at one time had a run in WWE’s developmental system.
This match was strange all the way around and not always in a good way. Stevens got a lot of heat just by stalling around and ducking out of the ring at the drop of a hat. This reminded me a lot of another hated heel, Larry Zbyszko. It took forever for Stevens to lock up and really get into the match. But finally the pace picked up. Moondog and Abreyu are young guys just breaking in, with a ton of enthusiasm but also a lot to learn. The more experienced team of Stevens and Taylor showed their edge but the end came when the two valets, Gorgeous George and Bobcat, inexplicably turned on Moondog and Abreyu, beating them down with kendo sticks. That whole scene looked awkward.
George is an authentic Rockford product and was at one time Randy Savage’s valet in WCW. That was a long time ago, but she still looks pretty darn good. Same can be said of Bobcat, who was in WWE back in the day. They could almost pass for sisters. Despite that, the whole angle of them beating up Moondog and Abreyu was clunky and didn’t have much logic.
The Irish Pub Army
More tag team action was next, pitting death match veteran Masada and his up and coming young partner Axel Rico against the team of Cody James and Chris Miller, aka C & C Destruction Company. This match was on a different level of violence and intensity than anything else on the card. For me, it was the match of the night. This was my first real experience with Masada, who has been in ultra-violent matches since the early 2000’s. This guy can really go and is a fine wrestler even forgetting his more extreme side. Rico is starting to make noise in the Chicago indy scene...he’s got a unique look and all the tools are there.
As for C & C Destruction Company, these guys are two big, rugged bruisers with little respect for the rules. Cody James is a massive guy with the kind of look the big companies are interested in. This match was hard-hitting from the get-go, with a lot of crazy kamikaze dives over the top rope into the crowd. It was as different from Santa vs. The Grinch as you could get. Masada finally got a pin on Miller and then the real fun began. Masada grabbed a handful of bamboo skewers...the kind you use in cooking...and impaled James' head with them. The skewers stuck out of his skull like a mohawk and the blood started to flow...the only blood of the evening, as far as I could tell. They don’t call Masada the “ultraviolent beast” for nothing! In contrast, he seemed to be a real humble guy when he was working the merch table later.
That left only the main event to go, a battle for the Damage Inc. heavyweight title between champion Cowboy James Storm and challenger Eric Priest, who calls himself “The Underwear Model”. Only in pro rasslin’! These guys apparently went at it on the first Damage Inc. card. The promotion is super lucky to have a veteran superstar like Storm as their champion. This man has just about done it all in the wrestling business, mostly in the TNA/Impact promotion. He has a great talent for “reading” a crowd and then delivering what they want to see.
That was in full effect tonight. At one point, he used the help of a young kid at ringside to land a kick on the obnoxious Priest. That got over huge with the crowd. He also grabbed a mic at one point and talked about how he was going to give the hardworking people of Rockford...people just like him...what they paid for. He comes across way more authentic than many of the big stars and doesn’t seem scripted or over-rehearsed at all.
The champ James Storm has a beer...
He got all he could handle with Priest, who has a very Rick Rude like demeanor and a physique to boot. I thought Priest had a manager named Nick H., but we never saw him. I can see a guy like Priest getting a break with mid-level companies like MLW. Priest and Storm had a good physical bout that came to a somewhat wonky end when Priest send the referee smashing into the Cowboy, resulting in a disqualification. Storm retained his championship but didn’t get a clean pin on Priest. He got on the mic again and said let’s settle this once and for all in a cage match where fans bring the weapons on the next card. Promoter Eisman agreed and I guess we have a main event for the Feb. 12th card.
The card was generally entertaining but had some rough spots. What is advertised on social media needs to agree with what we actually wind up seeing in the ring. If there’s going to be a change in the bouts, the fans need to be informed. That being said, it was a lot of fun to see a local wrestling card again. They’ve got the building blocks of something special and a great all around champion in James Storm. Check out my interview with Damage Inc. promoter Steve Eisman below to see what he had to say...
I’m sure I will be back. Hoping they can keep up the momentum…
INTERVIEW WITH STEVE EISMAN
Steve Eisman is a super busy guy. He is the owner of Eisman’s Automotive Repair, S & J Seal Coating and Snow Plowing and Morning Wood Tree Service, all located in Rockford, IL. With all that on his plate, you wouldn’t think he’d be taking on any more responsibility, but you can add one more job to the list: head promoter of Damage Inc. Wrestling, the newest pro wrestling federation in Illinois!
It’s obviously a labor of love and something the lifelong wrestling fan wanted to do. The first two cards promoted by Eisman have been a big success and Damage Inc. seems on its way to becoming a force in the indy scene. I snagged a brief interview with the Eis-man to get his opinion on all things Damage Inc...
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Thanks for talking to us. I’m guessing you remember the great days of Rockford wrestling at Boylan High School. What were some of your memories of that era and who was your favorite performer?
STEVE EISMAN: My grandmother loved AWA wrestling down at Boylan. I went down there with her to see the matches. I guess my favorite performer was Baron von Raschke. I loved his finishing maneuver, the Claw!
WC: What was the spark that made you want to start a local wrestling promotion?
SE: I wanted to bring something back to Rockford that I thought it was missing. And I wanted to dedicate it to my late Nana, my grandmother, who loved men in tights!
WC: How long was Damage Inc. planned? Did the Covid pandemic slow down the creation of the project?
SE: I had partnered with another promoter for a show and the Attorney General of Illinois contacted us because they heard about it on the radio. During this time, Gorgeous George knew we had legal problems and said, why don’t you use Damage Inc. for a name and run your own shows and promotion. Things developed from there.
WC: What would you say was the most difficult part of putting the promotion together?
SE: It’s really more work than any of the other companies I own. You have to book all the wrestlers, arrange hotels for them, make and distribute tickets, do all the advertising, manage the website and the Facebook page.
WC: Independent wrestling is in a boom period, with a lot of talent available. How did you go about putting your roster together? What are some of the challenges involved?
SE: Psychotic Jimmy Blaze has a wrestling school and we use the independent wrestlers and students associated with him. Then we try to sign some of the bigger talent like James Storm and Rhyno. Those are the guys that have put in hard work and paid their dues.
WC: How helpful has Gorgeous George been and how did you hook up with her?
SE: I’ve known her since she was 12 years old and she’s been an amazing help to Damage Inc. She’s our commissioner and a lot of talent has contacted us because of her and her connections.
WC: Is there any plan to put together a Youtube channel for Damage Inc. or maybe even hook up with a streaming platform like IWTV or Fite TV?
SE: Yes for a Youtube show. And I’m starting a platform show on Facebook with the help of Justin Perkins.
WC: Any name stars you are trying to get for future events?
SE: Al Snow...maybe Hulk Hogan. (Think he’s pulling our leg with Hogan—Dr. M)
WC: Will the Teamsters Hall be the permanent home of Damage Inc. or will you have different venues?
SE: Until we need more space, we’ll be sticking with the Teamsters Hall.
WC Is working with charity an important part of Damage Inc? Any future causes you may be involved with?
SE: Yes it is. We should be working with Rock House Kids and also the homeless shelter. Both of those organizations give back to the Rockford community.
WC: Some indy promotions are hardcore with a lot of blood and profanity. Others are pretty family friendly. How would you characterize Damage Inc? Is it “in the middle”?
SE: We are definitely in the middle.
WC: Any last messages to folks who maybe have never seen an independent local wrestling show?
SE: Please come on down and see us live. All professional wrestlers get their start somewhere like here. It’s more exciting to sit ringside at a live match than watch it on TV.