Who would want to be a wrestling promoter? One wouldn’t forgive Andy Quildan asking himself that as he went to bed the night before Revolution Pro Wrestling’s Epic Encounters. For over a year he had fought to survive as lockdown forced RevPro behind closed doors and then, even after reopening, continued preventing the best of New Japan Pro-Wrestling from visiting their British ally.
Worse, the pandemic didn’t stop WWE from signing more members of his roster for their NXT UK brand. AEW got into the game as well. But somehow, he had come through it. He had ducked and dived, but the promotion had built real momentum through a period where most of their competitors saw interest disappear.
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And now, with High Stakes, he could finally bring in a globally renowned ringer to complement his regulars, as for the first time since October 2018, Minoru Suzuki would have a singles match in a RevPro ring. Something that to Quildan, the fans were ready to fully appreciate again.
“When I first started having someone like Suzuki come over, that would seem like this once in a lifetime thing that you had to be a part of. I feel that one thing that the pandemic was able to do was open people’s eyes to the fact that we can no longer take this stuff for granted, and not just international names, you can no longer take the freedom of being able to leave your house on a Sunday afternoon to go and watch world class professional wrestling for granted.”
And Suzuki was in a match that had never been seen in Britain before, challenging Will Ospreay for the Undisputed British Heavyweight Title. Whilst no longer a regular due to his New Japan commitments, Ospreay is still a lynchpin of the promotion’s main event scene. Indeed, the British-based branch of the United Empire have been at the cutting edge of many RevPro shows. Indeed, at High Stakes 2022, the best match of the night was Mark Davis and Kyle Fletcher welcoming their fellow countrymen The Velocities back to the UK with a heart-stopping spotfest that may be the best tag team match in York Hall history.
But their leader would not join them, with Ospreay being forced to pull out from the main event. Quildan explained to me how the illness unfolded, with the first sign that something was wrong being when Ospreay was unable to record a promo announcing Toa Henare as Jeff Cobb’s replacement; “We figured it’d be okay, in a couple of days. Like it’s just a 24-hour thing; he feels a bit rough the next day, but we didn’t think in our wildest imagination that by Sunday he wouldn’t be okay. And then we got to Friday, and he was still sick. Then Friday night, he messaged us saying, ‘I’ve got a real high temperature, and I’m going to have to go to the hospital’. We didn’t get any further update until Saturday morning, where basically, it was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a kidney infection, I’m not gonna be able to do the show.’”
What then followed was an intercontinental scramble to replace Ospreay and ensure that nearly 1200 fans weren’t left disappointed by the new main event.
It was 10am on Saturday morning when High Stakes lost its main event, yet a public announcement would not be made for another twelve hours. Quildan outlined to me why this was unavoidable; “Everything has to go through New Japan! It’s like everything’s a blur, everything’s gonna spin and you’re like ‘Oh, what am I going to do? What am I going to do?’. So, you have to do the first logical thing, which is inform them and then see what they want to do. And then it wasn’t until around two o’clock that someone got back to us. And then we were going back and forth with them [about] what we could do. And then no one got back to us. I wound up making the call that I have to let people know that Will was not going to be at the show. Ideally, we’d say what’s happening in his place, but we had to make that call in advance. I know it wasn’t the most ideal time to do it, but it was the only option we had, because the day was getting away from us.”
Quildan and New Japan would ultimately agree on Michael Oku facing Minoru Suzuki. This would involve Oku once again wrestling twice at a supershow, although this time he would be defending his Cruiserweight Title against Conor Mills rather than teaming with him, in the other match. Partially this was Quildan simply not having enough time to arrange for a replacement, especially with travel from Japan taking longer due to lingering coronavirus regulations and flights no longer being able to enter Russian airspace.
But according to Quildan, Oku was also the best option. “Everything about it makes sense. It ties in nicely with with what’s happening with himself and Connor Mills. And I think as far as an underdog in a match with Suzuki, I don’t think you’re going to find a bigger underdog.”
Quildan would also wryly note that ironically the original plan for High Stakes had actually been for Suzuki and Oku to face each other, with Ospreay’s original opponent having been Gabriel Kidd, who was pulled from the card before the match was announced due to his recent mental health issues. In another twist, Kidd would himself make an unannounced appearance at the show, winning a surprise match in his comeback.
Oku would once again repay Quildan’s faith in him, looking excellent against the Japanese veteran. His lithe frame and excellent selling meant that the match felt very different to the usual Suzuki formula, with Oku disrupting the rhythm of several spots by being knocked down hard. But some well-timed hope spots and innovative counters, as well as Oku’s ability to draw fans in, meant that he never came across as ridiculous or out of his depth. Fresh off his acclaimed performance against Will Ospreay back in February, it further cemented Oku as a rising star in not just British wrestling, but the global scene.
Back to the Future
There were times during the neverending lockdowns that it seemed like British pro wrestling may not survive, whilst during Speaking Out it often felt like it shouldn’t. What Revolution Pro Wrestling have achieved in consistently bringing back that big fight feeling to British wrestling cannot be underestimated. Before March 2020, you could say that WXW, OTT. and PROGRESS were all bigger than RevPro, running larger shows and having a clearer brand identity. Yet today it’s hard to argue that Revolution Pro Wrestling isn’t the biggest promotion on this side of the Atlantic.
That Quildan could source a strong opponent for Minoru Suzuki from within his regular roster is a testament to that, as was the all-round strength of the event. Whether it’s the tag team, cruiserweight, or women’s division, Quildan is benefiting from the investment he has made in several performers, many of whom had been dismissed by other promoters or hardcore fans. Such is the success of acts such as Sunshine Machine, Alex Windsor, Dan Moloney, Robbie X, and RKJ within Revolution Pro Wrestling, that they are now attracting renewed interest elsewhere in Britain.
It will never been easy promoting in a market as small yet saturated as British pro wrestling, but as Revolution Pro Wrestling prepares to celebrate its tenth year, the promotion is in stronger health than anyone could have expected five years ago, let alone two.