Everybody Eats: A View From The Second Floor At GCW's Fight Forever

 


Everybody Eats: A View From The Second Floor At GCW's Fight Forever

Live from the GCW Performance Center

January 29-January 30, 2021

Available on FITE.tv

by Tiffany R. Merryhill


Last October I was in the southern California canyons looking out at a gorgeous view of the sunset over majestic foothills and in the middle of it all a single wrestling ring with chairs carefully spaced and distanced around it. All the while I’m thinking ‘damn, how the hell is he gonna top this?’ Somehow, after the picturesque Garden Pier shows, after the grand return to the west coast, and after both of the wild New Year’s parties, it was done.


The ‘he’, of course, is Brett Lauderdale, and the ‘it’ is the notion of having a wrestling event that runs live for a full 24 hours. As much as I was awestruck by the canyons and the ability to pull that show off, in the words of the old vernacular: I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. By the end of January I’d be witness to something incredible and history-making.


If you’re still a little new to GCW after having viewed Fight Forever, one thing you should know is that there’s a complex character that’s formed around the promotion over the past couple of years. There’s the opinion that Lauderdale is the one who finally ushered in a legitimate successor to the original ECW, bringing a real variety of matches to wrestling again and boosting the awareness of talent on the independent scene. Then some hold the perception that GCW is run by some kind of unscrupulous Machiavellian promoter who would do whatever it takes to line his own pockets. The latter idea is steeped in fallacy, stretched out by social media prattlers who have a grand old time spinning their own fan fiction about the promotion. Yes, if you’re just tuning in you’ll hear it all - from rumors of booking a closeted supremacist for death matches (false) to fans disappearing in clouds of blunt smoke at intermission (true).


In time wrestling history will look at Brett Lauderdale with the same visionary impressions that we give Paul Heyman now when reflecting on ECW from the mid-to-late 90’s. Both promoters have a strong sense of community and rallying fans together when it comes to ‘the business’, but the only difference between the two is that Brett delivers on the money. That was proven after 24 hours of matches in the books and over $50,000 raised from the generosity of wrestling fans. What you hear about the promotion is one thing. What you see at Fight Forever, however, is what’s so very real and wonderful about wrestling.


Some of the best GCW shows take place at what we now call the promotion’s ‘Performance Center’. If you know, you know, and I wanted to know. Prior to that final weekend in January I’d seen these shows from this venue on live stream, but I’d never experienced what it was like to be there. Given that Fight Forever could be the last wrestling show that ever takes place from that revered location, I was not going to miss out on a chance to be there and observe something monumental take place. I let Brett know I had plans to do an in-depth writeup of this event from the perspective of someone there. Not only was I finally going to the legendary GCW ‘PC’, but there would be an entire day’s worth of wrestling shows broadcast from the building. 24 full hours in one venue.


If it seems like a crazy idea, you have to keep in mind that ‘wrestling people’ are built differently. They think on a different level than most people. Their bodies are able to withstand a lot of things that everyday men and women can’t endure. Wrestling fans are on a different wavelength than most, too. If you’re a fan, just think of the last time you wanted to initiate someone into this thing of ours by showing them two three-hour PPVs that you consider masterpieces while they consider it an arduous six-hour marathon. ‘Wrestling people’ are excellent at two things - wrestling and watching wrestling for lengthy amounts of time. Fight Forever isn’t such a wild concept; in fact it’s right up everyone’s alley.


When I made it to Center City that Friday evening and headed to the GCW PC about a half hour before the event started, the heart of Philly was frozen solid. Eighteen degrees and dropping. I was warned it would be cold, so I layered a thermal sweater under a thick sweater and zipped two hoodies over them. I wore fleece-lined leggings and boots with thick socks. Shit, if this was Arkansas I’d be dressed for snow. This, however, was the northeast. To put it mildly, there wasn’t shit that was mild about this weather. I still feel it now as I’m writing about it. It sank into my bones, this cold, and the only reason I take this time to describe the climate is because it serves as a testament to the fortitude of everyone involved with working a 24-hour show. This was not a night for the weak-hearted or southern-blooded.


What’s interesting about GCW’s Performance Center, better known as Philadelphia’s Voltage Lounge, is that it’s tucked away behind a number of surrounding structures and not immediately visible to you if it’s your first time there. It almost felt like I was looking for the secret entrance to a speakeasy as I passed through a chain link fence gate and walked up well-worn metal steps. Two other wrestlers were headed in the same direction as me, and we entered the building through the rear entrance, leading us through a small kitchen and through one more set of doors that led onto the stage. The first thing you see is the ring. You can’t miss it; the ring takes up nearly all of the space over what would usually be the dance floor. The ring extends all the way over to the bar, which doubles as a nifty entrance ramp or sick spot location if someone’s so inclined. The ring setup is an actual center stage with the spectator spots being the usual stage itself as well as the second floor bar area. On camera and in person it really does come across as a hell of a location to have any kind of show, let alone an all-day and all-night wrestling event. 


There was an energy in the building that night that cut through the cold. No, the venue was not heated, but you could see in the movement and the loud happy voices that these were men and women who were pleased to be there that night, glad to be among friends, and excited to be a part of something that looked to be very, very big. Many of these attendees were familiar faces to me now. Others were up and comers on the current indie wrestling scene who, prior to Fight Forever, I’d only known through social media. It was my pleasure to greet them all, whether for the first time or not. The camaraderie was comforting; it was cold both outside and in but the emotional warmth you feel from everyone coming together for something meaningful keeps you sustained for a good deal of time. 

 

Making my way upstairs to the second floor bar I noticed upon first glance the ample spread of food laid out for all in attendance. One other thing you should know about GCW if you’re new to the promotion is that they’re connected with a well-known culinary guru among the wrestling world, Jonesy. Yes indeed, the excellent ‘space cookies’ Jonesy. For this event he went all in, bringing a giant amount of meats and breads and sweet baked treats among an array of other snacks and drinks. If anyone planned to settle in for the entirety of Fight Forever, they surely would not go hungry on Jonesy’s account. It seemed as if the amount of food available to everyone was a symbolic parallel to the big picture being drawn out all around us - the next 24 hours available to all of the wrestling talent was their chance to ‘eat’. Some of these men and women had been waiting long enough to dig in, and these hours would be theirs to make shine. As for me, I grabbed a bottle of water, a bag of fruit snacks, and I settled in for the first bell at eight with every intention to remain on this ride as long as I could.


What I saw over that night and into the next day was where the physical meets the spiritual. There’s a lot of layers to that statement, actually. For one thing, I’d arrived at the venue having eaten several psilocybin mushrooms and more than a few potent THC edibles. By the middle of the first block that shit was kicking in hard, and at one point when I looked over the second floor railing I started envisioning this event as the greatest church lock-in ever; all of us fervently religious and passionate about what we love, here to worship wrestling for hours on end. Sacrilege to say it, maybe, but that’s the most honest way I can describe how all of us felt and what it meant to ‘stay up’ throughout the occasion.


I’d love to say I stayed at the GCW PC the whole 24 hours. It’s likely best for social distancing purposes that I left for periods of time and came back, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was in awe and slightly envious of anyone who was able to stick around for the duration. I’d even love to say I stayed awake the whole 24 hours, but then again even two hours of sleep was a precious commodity for something of this level. There’s an intensely fun challenge in testing yourself to see how long you can stay up for wrestling, and I imagine once more fans are allowed at shows you’ll see Fight Forever become an annual ‘destination’ event with indie wrestling fans from everywhere pulling up in campers or with car trunks full of sleeping bags and YETI coolers.


There’s always a moment at a show that I can look back on in my mind days, weeks, months, and years after the fact and say to myself ‘that was fun as hell’. In this case it’s being there at the Voltage Lounge at the crack of dawn, having returned after a night of tripping off shrooms and weed, tooling around the frigid streets of central Philadelphia, and making sure my squad of wrestling buddies were squared away with someplace to grab a shower and an hour or two of sleep. I was there at 4:30 and 5am watching live wrestling. Every bump and slam and wild spot happening as the sun came up outside. Donnie Janela’s genius Mortal Kombat spot, right there at the break of day. A lot of the attendees who were there a few hours earlier had gone to catch a nap and return later. Those of us who were there for that moment? It was beautiful. 


Each block of the entire show had a uniqueness to it that kept everything fresh. Once the initial technical issues were corrected, everyone had their chance to shine throughout the night into the next day. The Saturday morning blocks were amazingly fun; I watched the whole Camp Leapfrog block from the second floor leaning over and shouting my ass off in support of the Best Campers Ever team in the Ciberneticos match. The 7-year old kid in me (who lives not so deep down) went nuts over the idea of a live action Saturday morning wrestling show being played out in front of me where I could yell over the railing about how much of a jerk Dan Champion is and having him threaten to come get me. Still waiting on that, Dan. Camp Leapfrog is something special in the ‘new’ world of indie wrestling and a fine successor to the sad wreck of CHIKARA. I’m happy to see them take such a huge spotlight on the show. EFFY’s Big Gay Block from start to finish was a testament in talent and storytelling. This block was a worthy sequel to the Big Gay Brunch from last October’s Collective with the party vibe replaced with something very real and raw and brilliantly done by all. I knew I was seeing something wonderful take place when Dillon McQueen and Ashton Starr delivered exceptionally well in their match; naturally letting a story progress from bell to bell and involving the emotions of all of us there watching live. That match set a great tone for the rest of the show all the way up to the thrilling end with EFFY and Billy Dixon in a classic match that was done just as well as any cinematic bullshit they come up with in the big leagues these days.


So many worthy people took a seat at the proverbial table. All of the talent featured on Allie Kat’s block made their names known to the indie scene, and the Allie/Willow Nightingale match set a new standard for anyone on the indie scene watching and wanting to take a step up. History was made when Tony Deppen and Jordan Oliver wrestled for two straight hours because one simply just wasn’t enough to satisfy either of them. The fans continued to donate, supporting the independent wrestlers putting on a show to entertain not just the few in attendance but the multitudes watching live nationwide. By 9pm Saturday night, the wild notion had been realized and successfully completed. Over 24 hours had passed, a record was broken, and Terry Funk’s pleas for us all to “FIGHT FOREVER” ended with a victory for independent wrestlers.


As I headed back to reasonably mild Little Rock on an early flight out of soon-to-be-snowed-in Philadelphia the following Sunday morning, I wondered if this was a one-shot or if GCW would be crazy enough to try to pull this off every year. I think I’d be ready the next time to stay the full 24 hours. Maybe. I’d undoubtedly have a hotel room on the ready for backup, but I feel like I’m issuing a challenge to myself. There were a handful of attendees, like good old indie superfan Mittens, who came all the way from Brooklyn on little sleep and stayed there at the Voltage Lounge from Friday night to the following Saturday night without once losing any of his hype from beginning to end. The second floor crew of awesome people that I hung out and hung in there with during the Fight Forever blocks - surely we’d all have to do this sometime once more. And when we get together again...Jonesy will be cooking, right?

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