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Sunday, April 12, 2015

CJ Parker Invades CZW, Combats Spite with Success

One year ago, at CZW's Best of the Best, I had the privilege of speaking with Kevin Steen, less than six months before he Steenalized the last name in favor of Owens. Still known as Steen, the immense former Ring of Honor Champion hit the ring following the roll-call of tournament combatants and laid out owner DJ Hyde with two Package Piledrivers to a mighty cheer.

I was on hand that night for what was my first assignment for Fighting Spirit Magazine, covering Drake Younger's final night with the company where he made his name. Younger would join NXT as a referee later in the year, and interestingly enough, he was the official-of-record for Kevin Owens' debut, in which he famously had his nose broken.

The man that broke that nose requested his WWE release a week ago, and arrived as the 12th man for this year's Best of the Best. He was even selling shirts at his merch table that read "I BROKE KEVIN'S NOSE" to cash in on the notoriety.

Small fucking world, isn't it?

The abrasive CJ Parker, still running on green energy, took a trip to Voorhees, NJ Saturday night to participate in the Best of the Best tournament, a one-night showcase of some of the most dynamic performers not just in CZW, but throughout the indepedent scene. Among the other outsiders joining CJP (his legal-friendly name for the show) were Trevor Lee of the Carolinas and Holland's 'Anti-Hero' Tommy End. They joined Combat Zone regulars "Chainsaw" Joe Gacy (reigning Wired Champion), "Speedball" Mike Bailey, and "Dirty" Buxx Belmar for what promised to be a night of many 'holy shit!' chants.

A word about CZW: as much as I love the company, I will admit that their matches take on a bit of a far-fetched tack. If you want to pick nits, and that's really no fun, a lot their matches do feature a lack of selling, eschewing the wrestling basics in favor of intricate, dazzling spots. I hardly think that's a criticism, especially when some indies base their shows almost entirely in surreal humor, but that's CZW. Their slogan remains, "Like Nothing Else!", and their presentation bends wrestling convention for its own benefit. Not that the crowd minds one bit.

CJP is a unique science experiment. Calling him a 'lab rat' would be deliciously ironic given his NXT gimmick, but he's one of the first real juiced-in guys from NXT's Performance Center era to be released 'into the wild'. The knowledge he's picked up from WWE's modern developmental finishing school isn't found in too many independent performers, and I had a feeling that he would mesh irregularly with the Best of the Best crop.

CJP won his first round match over Gacy (interference from David Starr helped eliminate the champ so early) and well-rounded upstart "Bad Boy" Joey Janela,. He advanced to a semi-final with the aforementioned Bailey, a humble martial artist from Montreal whose soft-spoken, kindly demeanor is a betrayal of his razor-sharp kicks that could turn firewood into sawdust. Bailey benefits from the hyper-reality that CZW fosters, and his style bends reality into crazy-straw proportions. To counter that, no Bailey match is ever bad; he's as compelling to watch in 2015 as Tajiri was in 2000: to watch him is to see something unlike anything else. Fits the CZW credo, no?

The Bailey connection reaches CJP in another way; when interviewing Steen one year ago today for that Drake Younger piece, Steen heavily praised Bailey, his fellow Quebec native, lauding how far he'd come in the business in such a short time. Those scant degrees of separation were the lone connectors of the two semi-finalists, it seemed. The match had the potential to be a style clash, I thought.

Except it wasn't. Depending on how you felt about Bailey's win in the finals over Jonathan Gresham, the win over CJP may have been the best match of the night. The former CJ Parker didn't go to the absurd innovative heights of Bailey, whose offense includes a cross-body counter into a backflipping powerslam, a shooting star knee drop, and alternating machine gun kicks at sprinter's speed. Parker kept it simple, doing the sort of heelish crowd work that drew groans from a CZW crowd that comes to expect near-death experiences for their dollars.

The CJP we saw was the same as the CJ Parker on NXT broadcasts more or less. That may sound bad to the Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn/Finn Balor-loving crowd, but it's quite the opposite. Parker brought timing, consistency, and a natural charisma to an environment so often with horns locked in infinite-mach speed. He was the perfect foil for underdog Bailey to rattle off his kick barrage on, and by the time Bailey went over to advance, the larger-than-usual Voorhees crowd was living and dying on every near-fall at the end.

Those very fans booing Parker throughout his elementary offense and nerve-wracking heel work actually applauded him afterward when the stage was all his. Bailey departed, and CJP was the recipient of a considerable ovation for what was now recognized as a great performance. With his mouth now bloody, Parker seemed humbled, then yelled, "FUCK YOU!" in a lovely twist that drew both boos and laughter; a recovering Tim Donst sat beside me for the latter half of the show and was doubled over in chuckles at Parker's perfect timing. It was the appropriate response.

So much for Parker being an NXT black sheep. He's going to do great for himself wherever he goes on the indy or international scene.

Seems as though the man once written off as a one-note eco-douche has a wealth of knowledge at his disposal, and so many places to bring his wares. One wonders what success other NXT performers might find across the map should they similarly ask for a release.

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