2018 YEAR IN REVIEW
BY STEVE FULLHART
LIONS PRIDE SPORTS PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER
For all things, there are beginnings. As the first full year of Lions Pride Sports comes to a close, the buzz and momentum that has been created is significant. Years from now, I’ll enjoy looking back on all the excitement of 2018…but why wait?
No man had a bigger 2018 than “One Man” in The Pride.
Mike Dell overcame Ring of Honor’s Shane Taylor to start the year. He teamed with, then took down international superstar Hammerstone at consecutive events before heading into Rockdale with the debuting Lions Pride Sports Championship at stake.
Not only did Dell outlast all in a battle royal that March night, he immediately went into the one-on-one title match against a rested Vordell Walker aided by Chase Paradise…and somehow won that, too. It was a remarkable test of endurance and strength, and it culminated in the first crowning of a champion here.
Dell hit a giant roadblock over the summer as Lance Hoyt psychotically dismantled anyone in his way. The New Japan star was able to take the title from Dell in June, but later that month, revenge was exacted in a street fight. Dell became champion again. More on that drama later.
Whether facing top tier talent like former NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion Rob Conway, persevering in an instant classic against “Juicy” Danny Ramons, or teaming with WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Lawler, Dell far more often than not was on top. Sadly, for Mike, it was not a perfect year. The villainous Brand recruited Moonshine Mantell, who finally topped Dell to close out the year, taking the title with him.
Still, the accolades speak for themselves: first main event victory, first champion, first two-time champion, longest reigning champion. “One Man” had one amazing year in The Pride.
From the outset, Chase Paradise left no doubt he was in Lions Pride Sports to cause chaos. First, he brought Brent McKenzie into the fold. Fresh off an NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship match against Tim Storm at the debut show in 2017, “Super Tex” made it his mission to cause as much pain as humanly possible.
But 400 pounds of punch you in the damn mouth wasn’t enough for Paradise’s taste. He also recruited Vordell Walker and Franco D’Angelo, two veteran bruisers. The Brand was born, and it was as menacing as it was frustrating. However, it ultimately wasn’t successful in achieving the creative producer’s ultimate goal: seizing gold.
Paradise was not lost, even though a pair of piledrivers from Jerry Lawler may have rattled him a bit. He retooled his creation in the fall. Step One: Bring in a hungry young powerhouse desperate to rule pro wrestling in Texas and beyond. Moonshine Mantell shocked fans when he joined Paradise in September. Mantell seemed to think he needed an extra boost to move to the very top of the food chain, and he turned to The Brand for it.
Step Two: Pilfer The Pride’s locker room. A month after Mantell signed on The Brand’s dotted line, Paradise added three more signatures. Max Castellanos and Will Allday gave him two young, athletic talents who are also savvy beyond their years. Angel Blue gave him a veteran badass to take on and take out any woman who sets foot in The Pride.
Step Three? That came to fruition in December with Mantell overtaking Dell and winning the title, backed by the interference of Paradise. Without question, The Brand’s confidence is at an all-time high, and it should only grow when McKenzie returns from an injury suffered in the fall. Who will be able to stop them in 2019?
As 2018 began, Nate Jolly found himself in a pair of tag teams that were long on bravado and short on victories. In fact, they did not have a single win in The Pride. To some, “Johnny Swole” seemed destined for laughing stock status despite his in-ring gifts. His mind didn’t seem to be where it needed to be.
Things changed in the summer, one peppered with Pride encounters with Jerry Lawler, Billy Gunn and Rikishi. You could see a corner being turned. The experiences between the posts with those legends were both humbling and invigorating.
We saw a new Jolly come August, on his own and on his way up. He was one of the final two in the elimination match to decide the first 360 Champion. While he fell short to Hammerstone, he was clearly racing in a different gear. By October, with the 360 Title vacated due to injury, Jolly took the opportunity, emerging from a battle royal with the gold. The outstanding Barrett Brown, who himself saw his stock soar through stunning performances and major appearances like at NWA70, gave Nate every millimeter of his .50 caliber in back-to-back title matches. Jolly held strong and held on.
There is a bandwagon for “Johnny Swole.” It’s called The Gain Train, and it’s getting full. Get on board while you can, because it should pick up even more steam in 2019.
For a promotion based in Aggieland, it was great to find an Aggie that could be a standout star. That came to pass when Alex Gracia joined Lions Pride Sports.
Trained by the heralded Rudy Boy Gonzalez just as Mantell and Castellanos have been, “The Pink Dream” had less than a year of schooling and match experience when she debuted in The Pride in August. What she also had was an ability to learn quickly, adapt easily and fly around a ring. The fans, regardless of whether they’re Aggie supporters, have gotten behind Gracia.
In the latter part of the year, she found a nemesis in Angel Blue. The two traded wins in grueling matches that saw the veteran Blue dish out her trademark punishment, and the rookie in pink power through and issue some statements of her own. Gracia likely learned a lot in victory and defeat, and the lessons may continue in 2019 as Blue continues onward as part of The Brand.
With the momentum of women’s wrestling growing rapidly, Alex has caught the attention of promotions around the world. She competed in RISE, Shimmer and Shine in 2018, and will start 2019 on a two-month tour of Japan with Stardom. Gracia’s journey from getting an Aggie Ring to getting in the wrestling ring has been inspiring, so when she’s back in Lions Pride Sports, don’t miss your chance to see her in action.
The way the summer went with Lance Hoyt, reasonable people would have had a lot of trouble picturing “The American Psycho” being in The Pride in the winter, much less co-promoting an event with the company to close out the year. The web woven in 2018 was certainly tangled.
It started as you would expect. Hoyt was hot. That included beating McKenzie, Dell and MVP in a four-way match held at the famed Hurricane Harry’s, and topping former WWE star Carlito in the Brazos County Expo’s arena. Then, he headed east on a New Japan tour during which Dell won the debuting Lions Pride Sports Championship. The Hearne native had an eye on the title scene back home. He saw others getting shots, and he felt slighted despite being overseas.
Hoyt’s rage boiled over in Navasota in May. Having brought his Killer Elite Squad partner Davey Boy Smith Jr., Hoyt opened the show with a win, then later interjected himself in the post-match celebration of the champion Dell, destroying everyone who stepped foot in the ring. Commissioner Aaron Presley fired Hoyt, but he left town with the belt, parading the stolen gold on social media and at other promotions.
Obviously and rightfully incensed, Dell demanded his title be returned. Lions Pride Sports management enlisted the help of lawyer and former NWA President Bruce Tharpe to act as a neutral mediator. A deal was made for the title to be returned, and for Hoyt to get a shot at it. In perhaps the biggest shock of the year in Texas pro wrestling, Tharpe aided Hoyt in the intense match, costing Dell the strap and putting Hoyt atop The Pride. Bruce and Lance had been conspiring the whole time.
Management knew this could not go on, so they gave Dell a rematch, made it an Aggieland street fight, and added a loser leaves town stipulation. In late June in College Station, the two foes went toe-to-toe. Tharpe continued to interfere, but Dell found a way to drop his Dellbow into the blackened heart of Hoyt and win back the championship. It gave the giant his first (and as of publication, only) loss in Lions Pride Sports…and a pink slip.
We still don’t know the full story of how this company and “The American Psycho” worked out their differences. Did time simply heal the wounds? Was there something else? Regardless, Hoyt and The Pride are in each other’s good graces. Lance even made The Brand think he would join their growing ranks before attacking them. The Winter Warfare event in Bryan co-promoted by KES has seemingly solidified the footing, but the ground was certainly shaky this summer wherever Lance Hoyt walked.
We have featured some of the best wrestlers the world has to offer, and when legends of the industry drop in, it further validates just how amazing things are here.
Two WWE Hall of Famers have each made two appearances in Lions Pride Sports. An iron man of pro wrestling, Jerry Lawler shined in a pair of tag team matches that left fans in College Station and Hamilton in awe. Rikishi put butts in seats in Navasota and Bryan, and put his stink in a pair of faces. He also gave a touching in-ring tribute to Brian Christopher, Jerry Lawler’s son and Rikishi’s former Too Cool companion.
MVP balled twice with us. Shane Douglas served as special guest referee for that classic Dell-Ramons title tilt. Billy Gunn shaved Nate Jolly’s head. Gangrel gave his seal of approval to the impressive young Terrale Tempo. Carlito brought the Colon family legacy – and some fruit – into our ring. Chris Masters gave us a Masterlock Challenge, then took on Impact Wrestling’s X Division Champion, Brian Cage.
The word is out about Lions Pride Sports, and it’s a good word thanks in part to the superstars who have graced The Pride with their presences.
For all the amazing moments, I’m left smiling. That’s something the team of Big Daddy Yum Yum and Nobe Bryant makes happen each time they enter the arena. Chocolate City’s overwhelming energy and desire to impact the emotions of each fan is inspiring.
When you attend a Lions Pride Sports event, you get that positive energy. You see action, excitement and drama. You find yourself investing in the men and women putting their all into the competition.
We thank those of you who joined us in 2018, and we’re looking forward to having everyone at our events in 2019 and beyond.