Dave Bodymore: CZW: More than Hardcore
A renewed love of watching CZW events, coupled with a discussion on a wrestling page on Facebook, led me to begin writing this article. When the letters CZW are mentioned to many long-time Independent wrestling fans most will dismiss them as nothing more than an ultraviolent company, that they won’t reduce themselves to watching. I will admit that at one stage I was one of these fans. I would dismiss CZW as just a company of hardcore, deathmatch wrestlers and I wouldn’t watch it. Little did I know that I was actually missing out on seeing some of the best independent wrestlers around by making this sweeping generalisation of the company.
A Brief History
CZW was founded in in 1999 by John Zandig and 5 of his students. They opted to showcase the hardcore, ultraviolent style of wrestling and looked to fill the niche left free by ECW folding. Throughout their early existence they moved to several different venues as states like New Jersey banned the use of ultraviolent weapons. The original CZW roster was mostly made up of homegrown talent that was trained by John Zandig and his more experienced students. Names like Nick Gage, Wifebeater, Justice Pain and John Zandig became big names on the ultraviolent wrestling scene and close links with Japan’s Big Japan Wrestling only served to assist in the quality of wrestlers that worked on the CZW events. One of the most famous incidents from the Zandig era of CZW happened at ‘Cage of Death 5’ as Hi-5, a heel stable at the time, suspended Zandig in the middle of the ring by meat hooks attached to the roof of the arena.
In 2005 CZW established a connetion with Chikara and their joint training school, ‘The Wrestle Factory’, was created, CZW however split off from Chikara in 2007 and formed their own school. During the mid to late 2000’s CZW, booked by Mike Burns, had one of their best runs which included an excellent feud with Ring of Honor. At Cage of Death 7 then CZW Ironman champion Chris Hero, now WWE’s Kassius Ohno, challenged Bryan Danielson. Now WWE’s Daniel Bryan, to a match at the next CZW show. Allegedly, Zandig was furious that a deal had been struck with Gabe Sapolsky and ROH without him knowing and the news sent him into a frenzy. It is reported that he pushed Mike Pancoast, of Pancoast Productions who were responsible for CZW media at the time, down a flight of stairs during this frenzy. It was down to this deal that Mike Burns departed CZW, though it is unknown if he left by choice or was fired.
Current Owner D.J. Hyde bought CZW in 2009 and has been the man responsible for the change in CZW’s direction over the last few years. Hyde has taken CZW to Germany and the UK, as well as returning to Japan. He has also branched out to several new states in the US as well. One of the major changes to CZW, under Hyde’s ownership, has been the change to the booking of shows. The focus is now more on high quality wrestling, with some of the best Junior Heavyweight’s in the US, and from further afield, competing on CZW shows. Hyde still uses the ultraviolent wrestlers and these matches are still very much a part of the CZW landscape, but they are now used more sparingly and as part of stories.
Where does CZW go next?
With the changes DJ Hyde has overseen to the company and the immense talent they currently possess within their ranks the future is very bright for CZW. As well as changing the overall look of the shows, the decision to make Drew Gulak the CZW champion is proof that they are more than just a garbage wrestling promotion. Gulak is one of the most technically proficient wrestlers on the Indy wrestling scene today and has consistently produced great matches with some high quality technical wrestling.
So should CZW listen to the critics and drop the ultraviolent matches completely? That decision is obviously out of our hands, but I would say that if they chose this option, CZW would no longer be CZW. If you enjoy wrestling with minimal hardcore matches you can pick from any number of Independent promotions worldwide like ROH, Wrestling Is and many more. In the Ultraviolent matches CZW still possess a unique selling point in the US market and, whilst I realise there are several hardcore matches up and down the US scene, CZW still does this style the best.
I am a more traditional wrestling fan and choose to not watch most ultraviolent matches. In most circumstances these matches are just 2 wrestlers hitting each other with stuff. As I have grown more interested in CZW I have seen that they no longer just use ultraviolent matches on shows for the sake of it. Whilst they still run their major Ultraviolent shows, most of their shows now consist of only 1 or 2 hardcore matches. These matches are mainly used where a storyline requires it, like the end of the Adam Cole and Sami Callihan feud or the Joe Gacy vs Matt Tremont match from ‘Cerebral’.
So to the point of me writing this article? As I stated in the first paragraph, many wrestling fans still dismiss CZW before giving it a chance. Hopefully for anyone that has looked at this you will want to give CZW a look. I can assure you that with the talent on display you will not be disappointed.