I did not go to Fargo to have my love of independent professional wrestling rekindled. All I wanted was to see Minoru Suzuki, the bonus being that he was wrestling Dominic Garrini, a wrestler I knew and felt very attached to despite our paths never crossing. But how do you deny Timebomb Pro’s fans, an undercard that wrestled to the level of the main event without taking any of the shine off of a once in a lifetime occasion? By the time Garrini entered the ring to The Cranberries’ “Zombie,” a song I punched my leg along to so hard that I went home bruised, I felt the same way I did the first time I went to an indie show 12 years ago to watch a recently fired Bryan Danielson wrestle some guy named Eddie Kingston at the local flea market.
I was enthralled.
I was in love.
I was way, way closer to someone I considered a legend than I imagined possible. If you’ve never been to an indie wrestling show before, you should, just to get a sense of how intimate they are. The experience will literally change your perspective on the sport, both in terms of how you feel about it as a narrative art and how you see it. It’s a cliché, but what makes live independent wrestling work is the intimacy. The crowds are smaller, packed in tighter against the ring, everything else about the spectacle left largely unaffected.
Relearning How to Love Indie Wrestling
When I moved to Georgia to pursue a graduate degree, I left that behind. There’s wrestling here—the scene is, in fact, growing—but it often feels like I am somehow larger than the shows I am paying to see. That’s easy when the ceilings are so low in one venue that taller wrestlers can’t take body slams, or when another is literally a chicken auction barn in its day-to-day existence.
Beyond those shows, I stopped following indie wrestling. It was too time consuming when I was a student and rarely aligned with my coverage schedule here at FanFyte. It would take something special to get me back in a Local Venue for an Upper Tier Indie Show, and it just so happened that Minoru Suzuki was wrestling somewhere strange, against someone I had a connection to. I bought a ticket and braced myself for a long, long drive to North Dakota.
More Professional Wrestling
- For Dominic Garrini, Minoru Suzuki Is More than a Dream Opponent
- Ten Years of Suzuki-gun: A Review
- Screaming KAZE NI NARE at the Top of My Lungs: A Review
If I have set you up for a blow-by-blow of some great wrestling match, I’m sorry. I have no idea how Dominic Garrini vs. Minoru Suzuki was. I only know how it made me feel. I have seen matches like this before and even found the right words to describe how they worked on me. Since I was there—the photos in this piece are mine, I am on the hard cam—I am part of the story. That’s true of every wrestling critic’s response to every wrestling match, no matter how much we try to play towards subjectivity, but this feels different, which is worth noting.
I react the way I react to Minoru Suzuki’s American excursion because I love him as a wrestler and as a presence, because I like the formula he’s using, and because I think it’s cool that he’s here. I cried when he made his AEW debut at All Out. Imagine being in a small venue to see him wrestle. Imagine standing next to him. Imagine having your picture taken with him. The pre-show meet and greet is pretty important to how I reacted to this match.
As a rule, I don’t let people take photos of me, but I couldn’t take a selfie, so there I was doing everything I cringe at in photos—leaning from a distance, hooking my thumb in a belt loop, making a weird fist. I made myself vulnerable for the sake of an aspect of the Minoru Suzuki experience, stripping away most of the performative bullshit that I otherwise project in the audience. I wasn’t a critic or a former announcer or an asshole—for once in my adult life, I was a mark, and the experience was extremely pleasurable.
Helping matters further is that Timebomb Pro put on a “something for everyone” show that really worked for me. Alex Zayne vs. Orin Veidt was a good opener. I really liked Badger Briggs and Damon Spriggle. Kevin Ku and Bryan Keith put on a match that earned its standing ovation. I saw Dr. Cube. The only wrestler there that I’d seen live in any capacity was Suzuki, so every match offered something new, someone new. It is hard for disinterest to creep into the experience under those conditions, especially with that main event on the horizon.
The King vs. The Bone Collector
That main event? It really worked. The atmosphere was perfect from the opening note of Garrini’s theme song. He is the champion of a company running its biggest show, three years into its run. He is making a one night return after five months in recovery from a back injury that’s made his future uncertain. He is accompanied by his tag team partner, Kevin Ku, who tore down the house two matches ago. He interacts with nobody, enters the ring wearing his mask, takes it off, and is ready. Suzuki? Suzuki is Suzuki. How could you be anything less but rapt for that man?
What I’m going to remember most from this match is the sound of Suzuki’s chops, the sharpness of his elbows. Garrini was extremely good on the sell, though I doubt one needs to be “good” to sell a chop that discharges like a rifle. They are murder, and the guy hitting them looks like he really enjoys committing murder. Garrini eating these and refusing to back down made him a sympathetic figure in a match that was elevated for this dynamic. It didn’t feel like a special attraction the way even the best Suzuki matches have—it felt like a man responding to another man calling him an “unknown player” by trying to prove, in various ways, that he could hang with a legend.
He does. Not because he’s Suzuki’s equal as a striker (though his grappling ability keeps him at Suzuki’s level), but because he won’t back down against someone whose entire gameplan is making someone backdown. Every ring Suzuki has wrestled in on this tour, including AEW’s, has felt like it belonged to Suzuki. At Timebomb Pro, it felt very much like Garrini was a wounded protector, rising above the circumstances of his injury to make it known that the Fargo-Moorhead area was him. As a consequence, Suzuki slowly came to respect Garrini. He had him in the pre-Gotch Style Piledriver sleeper hold longer than he normally does. He brushed aside Dom’s mullet and pecked him on the forehead before putting him down a nasty strike. The smiles Suzuki cracks during strike exchanges feel less like intimidation and more like appreciation.
This is, I imagine, all being there, all being primed for something special to the extent that it being less than special was impossible. But, watching the match back on IWTV, I fell into the same headspace. I love the finer aspects of wrestling, but it is at its best when all of that melts away—no flaws, no quibbles, just the vibe between wrestlers and an audience. Here what triggers that is one of the announcers says, of Suzuki, “look at the way he knows his way around another man’s body.”
So I look. It’s easy because the early portions of Suzuki’s matches are designed to be a showcase for the way he moves from limb to limb, from position to position, to make it seem as if he has not lost a step. His current work is more focused on the pyrotechnics of his strikes, the release of the Gotch Style Piledriver, but against a wrestler like Garrini, whose style was not only influenced by Suzuki, but is a modernized, gritty version of it, he gets to hang in this space longer. It’s not a matter of whether or not someone can hang with him anymore, but how long they can take it before their pro wrestling instincts kick in and move the match to the next segment.
What’s significant about the opening portion of the match is how Suzuki does not get to move around freely like a man in total command of another man’s body. Dom interrupts and frustrates him more than enough, to the point that Suzuki goads him into the strikes. This establishes a pattern that plays out for the whole match. It’s Garrini offering Suzuki the free shots. It’s Garrini surprising Suzuki with a succession of sleeper holds at the end of the match.
On a narrative level, Dom is a step behind Suzuki—look at the way he gets leveled by those free shots and tell me that’s not pride fucking with his head against a man who has more experience than Garrini does years on this planet. But also on a narrative level you have a wrestler who has been out of the ring for five months, whose first match back is Suzuki, and who is almost able to really, truly stand toe to toe with him. A man almost won!
Live, this was a feast. In my interview of Garrini, I admitted to being a homer for the Cleveland crew and a sucker for the NEVER Openweight style. I spoke above about my vulnerability after taking a mark photo with Suzuki and seeing a great show. So when Garrini put his hands behind his back and asked Suzuki to strike him, I thought Dom had a chance of winning. Then I started hoping he would, screaming “LET’S GO DOM” like I could rally him from an elbow to the cheekbone. You can actually see this, since I’m on hardcam, especially during the closing sequence where Garrini hooks on his first couple of sleepers. My hands are cupped over my mouth in complete shock. It might happen! It might happen! It mig—ahh, there’s the counter, the sleeper, the piledriver, the song.
Waking Up from the Dream Match
I don’t know what happens from here for anyone except Suzuki. I don’t mean that in an exciting way, either. Garrini, in a note posted on Twitter, maintained that his future in professional wrestling was uncertain due to the nature of his back injury. Were he healthy, it would be hard to not call for him to be booked everywhere, to see him preceded at these bookings by footage of this match, of Suzuki giving him a handshake and a hug after the exact kind of fight both men wanted, a wrestler elevated by a singular experience, just as capable of elevating others. He is clearly capable. He just needs to heal and hope the rest of the scene has as much belief in his capabilities as Timebomb Pro clearly does.
For me, this is a return to indie wrestling. To learning who new wrestlers are, finding out who I’ve missed out on over the past several years. That’s a personal project, yes, but the line between my personal enjoyment of wrestling and my professional attention paid to it are so blurred that it’s hard to imagine that not spilling into more indie coverage here at FanFyte. That’s the magic of circumstance and sequences of events. Would I feel this way if Timebomb Pro ran in Minneapolis? If there was no meet and greet? If I looked cooler in my picture? If I didn’t fall in love with Briggs and Spriggle? If Ku and Keith hadn’t torn it up? If Dr. Cube wasn’t there? If there was one less chop, one less elbow, one less sleeper?
The joy of live independent wrestling is this: I don’t have to wonder. It happened how it happened. If worked how it worked. And for me, it worked better, more consequentially than words and star ratings can express. Dominic Garrini vs. Minoru Suzuki was a match built for me. I could live within its 13 minutes. It’s not hard to imagine doing so when I need to be reminded that wrestling is not merely something I cover, but something I love.