The year 2016 has treated professional wrestling kindly, to say the least. It has been host to many great tournaments around the world from the small-time indies to the grandest stages like WWE and NJPW.
The finest is upon us, however, as Pro Wrestling Guerrilla is set to host its biggest annual event: The Battle of Los Angeles — an event with a lineup so rich in talent some consider it poised to be the best indie tournament in recent memory, at the very least of 2016.
Germany’s Westside Xtreme Wrestling hosted its 16 Carat Gold Tournament and London’s PROGRESS Wrestling had its second Super Strong Style 16 tournament earlier this year. Combat Zone Wrestling continued its ultraviolent tradition with the annual Tournament of Death. While New Japan Pro Wrestling has kept busy much of the year hosting several different tournaments like Best of the Super Juniors XXIII and reintroducing the Super J Cup.
NJPW’s G1 Climax 26 and WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic have been most noteworthy. While NJPW toured across the country of Japan for nearly a month progressing through its massive tournament and the CWC gains massive audiences each week on the WWE Network, it is a little venue tucked away in the heart of Reseda, California which will host 2016’s best pro wrestling tournament.
PWG is set to host its 12th annual BOLA on Labor Day weekend. There will be no live stream, no On Demand upload in the days after, and the DVD/Blu Ray release will take anywhere from one to two months to be released to the public. Just a little more than 400 people in the world will get to witness what has been set up as the best wrestling tournament of the year live, including fans, staff, and the wrestlers themselves, in a little venue in the San Fernando Valley where said people will be crammed in the building like sardines.
Quality-wise, its competition is incredibly stiff this year. The G1 Climax produced several Match of the Year candidates and continued to highlight NJPW’s mastership of consistency. The CWC has brought a slew of fresh faces to the WWE stage from around the world to show off their unique styles and put on great matches which more than separate themselves from the standard WWE product. And the other various tournaments like the aforementioned all offer a pro wrestling experience more than worth the time viewing.
It is PWG that hits the bullseye though, having put together a roster unmatched in quality, and setting up a near-perfect format to let the carnival of fun play out to pro wrestling bliss. Over the course of three consecutive nights, 24 professional wrestlers from around the world will perform in a single-elimination tournament to crown the 2016 winner of the Battle of Los Angeles.
The format is essentially the same thing WWE came up with for the CWC, only a more condensed version with great density of quality.
When you look at the CWC, and the G1 Climax too, you run into less-than-stellar talent and even filler-esque matches. Nearly half of the original lineup for the CWC were basically unknown wrestlers matched up against names who were all but guaranteed to go over. And given the format of the G1, the sheer amount of content, plus not every wrestler being A-caliber, left plenty of room for matches which were unmemorable the very next day — after all, it took place from July 18 to Aug. 14.
PWG covers both bases in its three-day span, while hosting nothing but the top talent in the world. In fact, PWG has become so famous for its booking, it has earned itself a special respect from the wrestling world. Other promotions can book talent and draw skepticism for its choices, but when PWG books somebody, no questions are asked. The presupposition is PWG holds such a high standard that whoever gets booked must be the real deal to get invited. The PWG booking is a rub all its own for a wrestler’s career.
This year’s BOLA features a lineup of lineups, a who’s who, spanning wrestling as a whole. Former WWE wrestler Cody Rhodes makes his PWG debut, along with six other newcomers.
Lucha Underground makes its presence with Pentagon Jr., Fenix, Jeff Cobb (the man under the mask of Matanza), and John Hennigan (better known as Johnny Mundo, or John Morrison to WWE fans).
NJPW is present with rising-star Kamaitachi, Ricochet (Prince Puma in LU), and Japanese legend Jushin “Thunder” Liger.
Ring of Honor is represented by “The Party Peacock” Dalton Castle, Kyle O’Reilly, and Matt Sydal (Evan Bourne in his WWE days).
European wrestlers of PROGRESS and Revolution Pro Wrestling are very much present in Will Ospreay, Mark Andrews, Pete Dunne, Mark Haskins, Marty Scurll, Tommy End, plus Zack Sabre Jr. and Jack Gallagher of CWC fame.
Rounding out the brackets are PWG mainstays Sami Callihan, Trevor Lee, and Chris Hero,
Even UFC fighter-turn-pro wrestler Matt Riddle will make an appearance.
On top of the tournament matches, PWG hosts non-tournament matches as well. The Young Bucks and current ROH world champion Adam Cole will be among those present for those matches.
To fully soak in the quality of the lineup and the matchups created, PWG has its first two days booked in full with Day 3 depending on the result of Days 1 and 2.
PWG as a whole is known for featuring the hottest talent in indie wrestling, but winners of BOLA are held in particularly high regard. Past winners include Davey Richards (2006), Low Ki (2008), Kenny Omega (2009), El Generico (Sami Zayn, 2011), Cole (2012), O’Reilly (2013), Ricochet (2014) and Sabre (2015).
PWG-mainstay Hero, one of wrestling’s most veteran performers today, having performed in IWA Mid-South, Chikara, CZW, ROH, EVOLVE, PROGRESS, RevPro, and NXT over the course of his career, is entering his eighth BOLA this year.
“Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s yearly tournament de force. I dare you to find a more diverse and action-packed wrestling event on the planet,” Hero wrote in Sports Illustrated.
PWG is an all-star indie promotion, sticking to its indie roots by choice, yet achieving the demand of an indie promotion on the brink of mainstream-following with its tickets selling out in a matter of minutes for every show — all three nights of BOLA selling out in four minutes.
WWE has WrestleMania, and PWG has The Battle of Los Angeles.
It is the most prestigious tournament in independent wrestling, in its most prestigious promotion. When you look at the wrestlers who have come through PWG — Kevin Owens, Neville, Zayn, Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, Omega, Johnny Gargano, and Tommaso Ciampa — you’ll find a common theme among them in that they tend to name PWG as a magical place to perform, with the best crowd in wrestling and where they had the most fun.
It is a reputation that holds up just as well today, and one which will prove itself during the 12th BOLA for the rabid fans who get to see it live, and the thousands more who get to see it some time later.