|Petey Williams has a hold on Chris Sabin Friday night during their match at The Fight Network launch party in Toronto.
- photos by Bob Kapur
TORONTO - Mix boxers, wrestlers and mixed-martial artists with some savvy television minds, a little media, and a whack of VIPs and an after-work party crowd, and it's a combustible atmosphere. But in what other kind of setting would you launch a station called The Fight Network?
That was the view Friday night at the Kool Haus in Toronto, just a stone's throw from Lake Ontario, where The Fight Network officially celebrated its launch into Canada's digital cable world (which had happened a few weeks earlier on selected outlets).
The evening's festivities included a Muay Thai boxing bout, two TNA wrestling matches, a boxing match and a mixed-martial arts demonstration, along with boatloads of hype, promotion and, for the aforementioned afterwork crowd, a little alcohol and dancing.
The Fight Network is the brainchild of Mike Garrow, who chatted with SLAM! Wrestling's Bob Kapur after the exhausting night.
"Having never put on a live event before, tonight exceeded my expectations," Garrow, The Fight Network's President and Chief Operating Officer said. "As far as I understand, no one's ever put a card together that had boxing, wrestling, mixed martial arts (all on the same show) before. Who knows, maybe it will become a fall staple."
The stars and celebrities in the crowd were many, and some mixed with the commoners more than others. By far, the most popular -- and recognizable given his low-cut Mohawk haircut -- was UFC fighter Chuck Liddell, who had a smile on his face throughout the night, posing for photos and shaking hands at every turn.
Other notables in attendance included former world heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes, Canadian boxing great George Chuvalo and boxer-turned-author/broadcaster Spider Jones. From the wrestling world, Bret Hart was in the house, along with Jimmy Hart. Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer even made the trek in from northern California.
Jimmy Hart and Bret Hart.
Here's a run-down of the evening by SLAM! Wrestling's Bob Kapur:
Before the show, TFN founders Mike Garrow and Sandy Winick welcomed the crowd, and aired a video package featuring some of the programming that subscribers will be able to see.
Following a Chinese dragon dance, a quick martial arts demonstration was next, with the highlight being a guy punch through seven concrete bricks. He needed two tries.
"The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart was introduced next, and he basically put over Bret Hart, who would be making an appearance later on.
Match 1: TNA Wrestling -- Petey Williams vs. Chris Sabin
A good match-up, as can be expected whenever these two hook up in the ring. Fast-paced action to start, with lots of chain wrestling, counters, and reversals. The match went back and forth quite a bit, with neither man really holding on to an advantage for long. The end came when Petey tried for the Canadian Destroyer, but Sabin reversed it to attempt a Cradle Shock. Petey escaped, booted Sabin in the gut, and hit a beautiful-looking Destroyer for the pinfall victory. Williams celebrated ala "Stone Cold" Steve Austin by gulping multiple cans of Molson Canadian before tossing them into the crowd.
Match 2: Muay Thai Boxing match -- Chris Kew vs. Ian Major
Before the match, MMA stars Frank Trigg, Gary Goodridge, Cung Le, Carlos Newton, and 'Iceman' Chuck Liddell were introduced.
After a lengthy and elaborate pre-match ritual, the two fighters had a decent match, though it was clear that many people in the crowd didn't fully understand the rules and traditions of Muay Thai -- in particular, can someone please explain why they play the music throughout the fight? It looked like Kew was in control for most of the fight, as he took Major down repeatedly with leg sweeps in the first two rounds. In the end, Kew won the decision, and the MMA stars presented him with the Canadian Amateur Muay Thai Champion.
Match 3: Boxing match -- Jorge Parades vs. Canadian Kid Steve Molitor
Before the match, boxing legends Larry Holmes and George Chuvalo were introduced.
Some fun during the introductions, with Molitor being led to the ring by a Mountie (not Jacques Rougeau, but a real one). The fight itself was decent, though it looked like Parades was afraid of mixing it up, as he would crouch down real low to protect himself anytime Molitor advanced. I guess that's probably good strategy, but I never really understood the sweet science to begin with. In the third round, it looked like Parades turned his back to Molitor, and then got pasted right in the ear. He walked around dazed for a bit, and after he couldn't respond properly to the referee, the contest was called. Winner by TKO: Steve Molitor. And you have no idea how tempting it was to use a bad John Milton pun here and say that Parades Lost.
Jimmy Hart introduced Bret 'the Hitman' Hart. Bret reminisced about some of his great matches that took place in Toronto, and graciously thanked everyone for coming out. Unfortunately, the whole segment was marred by some obnoxious drunk in the front row who kept yelling over Bret. Both Bret and Jimmy seemed to be distracted by the guy, and seemed to rush the segment as a result.
Match 4: Sabu vs. Rhino vs. Samoa Joe vs. Jeff Jarrett
Rhino is left in a heap under a table during his final battle with Sabu.
The first three competitors were announced, and then Rhino called out Jarrett (in some rather colourful language), challenging him to put up the NWA Heavyweight Championship in a four-corners match. Jarrett said he didn't have the authority to make this a title match, but would still come out and fight. This was a pier-six brawl from start to end. The four pounded each other with tables and chairs, and soon the ring was filled with broken table parts. At one point, Sabu splashed Joe through a table, and Rhino gored Jarrett through another, and both got the pinfall on their respective victims by veteran Ontario referee Eddie Oldschool. While the carcasses were being dragged away, Rhino, not content with a draw, got on the mic again and challenged Sabu to a fight to determine the sole winner. Though it didn't seem possible after the first part of the match, even more tables were broken as those two got it on. The end came when Rhino tried to gore Sabu through a propped-up table in the corner, but Sabu moved. Rhino crashed through, and was dazed enough by the impact, that he was easy pickings for the 1-2-3.
SLAM! Wrestling was well-represented at the launch party Friday night, including producer Greg Oliver, writers Bob Kapur and Corey David Lacroix, and Ottawa Sun sports editor (and former "Mr. X") Tim Baines. No doubt more of the SLAM! Wrestling staff might have made the trek had they known about the open bar and scantily-clad hostesses.