2022 BELMONT CLASSIC
NIGHT THREE RECAP
By: Tanner Quest
We’ve reached the final night of the Belmont Classic, and if the first two nights are any indication, this one is shaping up to be a doozy! Before we get started, feel free to check out the recaps of Night One and Night Two. Also take a look at Karelma Gutierrez’ latest project, where she assembles her All-Time Dream Belmont tournament!
Now, let’s get right into Night Three!
December 30, 2023, and back to Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis with yet another capacity crowd. Chloe London and Priscilla Kennedy gave us a recap of the previous two rounds, then went through the important news from last night’s action.
-The biggest buzz centered around Joey Burkhalter’s stunning loss to Crash in the main event, which sent shockwaves through the wrestling world. This was especially true in the gambling community, where betting sites were said to be in “a full-blown panic.” Blackhawk Fight Gym has not issued a comment on the matter.
-Connor Nackedy’s absence for most of the first half was also a frequent discussion topic. He finally arrived just after the Drew Mitchell/Izzy Sia contest, and reportedly had to change in a hurry before his own match. While it didn’t stop him from winning his match, one has to wonder what his mindset is going into tonight.
-A Hijinks Watch has been issued for the Greater St. Louis area. Be mindful of road conditions and large quantities of popcorn.
Dylan Earley returned to introduce the pre-show montage.
The song is Frank Turner’s “I Still Believe,” a song that Johnny Belmont never heard and probably would have hated. But it seems to fit the message, told in pictures taken at last year’s Belmont Classic.
Several young ladies have gathered for a group selfie. From left to right: Ivory Styles, Miranda DC, Maddie Kyle, Nikki Reese, Jessica Blaylock, Jennifer Colton, and Piper O’Haire. They crowd into the frame making a variety of poses and gestures, only a few hours before the tournament begins. One would become the champion. All of them are Queens.
Vae Victis relax in the seating area they’ve claimed for themselves, along with special guests Joe Bergman and Ray McAvay. They’re chatting, laughing, and drinking things brought to them by Plague Doctors.
A group of lucky fans sitting at ringside triumphantly hold up oranges. You always get something special at the Belmont; this time it was fruit.
“Catfish” Hank Wheeler stands tall and proud, singing along to “Step One” from Kinky Boots, while “Song & Dance” Sammy Broadway struts to the ring in his platform heels. Patti duPont rolls her eyes, but still enjoys the performance.
This…okay, this must be AI art or something, because it looks like an airship doing a barrel roll through the Midway Arch.
An assortment of wrestlers–Lindsay Troy, David McBride, Coral Avalon, Leroy Scrumptious, and a few others–gather around Tamika Holland as she flips through her famous autograph book, excitedly pointing out their own names as they come up.
About a hundred fans smile for the camera while holding up oranges, many of which have been autographed by Clay Byrd.
Just as he’s about to leave for his match, Jonah Ke’ela slaps his hand against a locker. You might think the locker was chosen at random…unless you were here the night before, when Justin Wheelwright was using it.
FLAMBERGE and Curtis Alexander Brown engage in a preening contest, to the crowd’s delight. Then confusion. Then consternation, and annoyance, and anger…and finally back around to delight.
The second night ends with Vahid Jafarnejad raising the arm of the woman who just defeated him, Miranda DC. He has not forgotten what this tournament is supposed to mean, and this display helps the fans remember.
Sammy Broadway’s platform heels sit on a table in the Argyle Position. Ignacio el Jaguar brushes his hands against them just before he walks to the ring. Most of the other performers will do the same, without ever being told.
Eddie Cross sits quietly on a bench, his dreams now dead at the enormous hands of Nelson County’s greatest export. As much as he wishes for solitude in this moment, he feels another hand on his shoulder–that of “Old School” Dave Gibson, offering a rare show of comfort.
Miranda DC is beaten and bloody, and nobody in the world would blame her for accepting the towel after The Anglo Luchador threw it in for her. By the look in her eyes, you can tell that’s not going to happen.
Jared Sykes stands by the ropes, backed by a sea of humanity that fills the ring and most of the floor. They all stand against someone who, by his own choices and actions, has taken himself out of the picture.
Finally, last year’s champion, Jennifer Colton, is carried around the ring by her brothers as she holds the Belmont Classic trophy aloft. The ring is filled with friend and foe alike…and without any of them, she never could have reached these heights. None of us can.
With that, Dylan Earley makes the introductions, and the third round begins!
CRASH vs. MORITON
Both these two men were impressive in their marches through the first two rounds. The crowd buzzed with excitement to see them face off in perhaps the most divergent stylistic contrast of the tournament to that point. Moriton’s simplistic but effective Mongolian bökh put a sailor and a knight-in-training on their asses. Crash was able to duck, dodge, and dive out of the way of two martial artists, albeit with two very different aesthetics. Who’d win out here?
Well, Crash had Moriton on the ropes early on, his catlike reflexes and supreme agility, even after two tough matches, flummoxed the big Mongol. But many of these cat-and-mouse affairs generally don’t see the mouse escape the clutches of the cat for too long. And that was the case here. Crash tried to Irish whip the hunk of steppe-made man and didn’t realize that trying to throw a State Grand Champion, a master of leverage, was a bad call. Moriton stopped Crash dead in his tracks and whipped him over his broad shoulder. From there, Crash got an education in bökh. He would have lost 20 matches in the naadam in short order, but luckily for him, this match was contested under pro wrestling rules and not that of the national sport of Mongolia.
Crash was able to catch a breather with some counters, and he even mounted a small comeback. But again, Moriton exerted his power and size, this time using some of the cool new submissions he learned in wrestling school. He never got to punish a guy after putting him on the ground on the steppe, so he was really enthusiastic. The problem is enthusiasm without seasoning can leave you open. Wide open.
With a last gasp, seemingly running on fumes, Crash slipped out of a grounded headlock and began his assault. WIDE LEFT! To a kneeling Moriton. He rolled out of the ring, but that only gave Crash an opening to hit the TAILGATE DIVE, which I’m sure he’s busted out in the Orchard Park lots many a time. Go Bills! (I have no idea what any of this means, but Peter insisted I put it in.) Then it was tossing the lummox back into the ring and 420 SPLASH!…but much like last night, Crash came up empty on a high-risk move! Moriton had his wits about him and rolled away, then he looked to stamp his own ticket to the semifinals.
Except there was no back-shattering kaboom. Where was the back-shattering kaboom? Crash robbed him of it using some dexterity and deftness himself, twisting at the peak, and transitioning into a swinging DDT! Wasting no time, Crash bolted for the corner, jumped up on the top rope, then leaped and spun through the air for the Crash Dot Com. Masked Justice counted the three, and Crash survived for another match, moving onto the elite eight. (11:21)
WINNER: Crash, Rating: ***½
Moriton made some big waves this weekend, and that should be a huge feather in his cap as he heads back to SHOOT. Here he ran into the same kind of problem that he was generating for his other opponents–Crash’s unpredictability led to Moriton’s downfall, as the Buffalo native kept pulling off moves and counters that nobody could have seen coming. A tough break for the big man, but still a great showing this weekend.
Being a PRIME superstar, Crash came into the weekend with lofty expectations, and it’s safe to say he’s exceeded them. Not only has he put together an impressive string of wins, he’s also connected with the St. Louis crowd really well. This should give him a lot of momentum heading into the new year.
Dustin Callais spoke with Shweta Kallemullah, who stepped into leadership of the Belmont Foundation over the summer. Shweta praised the efforts of everyone involved with this year’s event, touting it as a return to the true spirit of the Belmont Classic.
“Though last year’s tournament was a dark cloud over this Foundation, it represented an opportunity to grow and change. This year we focused on the future, which should always be the goal. And with some of the brightest young talent in the world, as well as referee and staff from the best wrestling promotions in the country, we feel the Belmont is set up for unprecedented success.”
DOMINGO CRUZ vs. IZZY SIA
While there may not have been much in the way of comedic entertainment like Domingo Cruz’s last contest, this match certainly received some buzz from the crowd in the lead-up. Similar in the way that Cruz significantly out-sized his last opponent, it was clear he was the physically bigger competitor in this bout; though the energy in St. Louis was definitely different from the Dasher/Cruz match-up, and you could even feel the uncertainty from Cruz as he awaited his opponent’s entrance.
Izzy Sia was accompanied to the ring by her Blackhawk Gym counterparts, Nate Robideau and Golden Burkhalter of SHOOT Project fame. While they left before the bell rang–seconds are barred from ringside at the Belmont Classic without a special exception–Cruz still seemed more cautious than he had in the first two rounds. He circled for what felt like an eternity before rushing in for a tie-up.
Sia launched some vicious Muay Thai knees to Cruz’s midsection but was overwhelmed by his strength and forced into a corner turnbuckle. That’s where Domingo cut loose with some fierce knife-edge chops that planted Sia on her ass. Cruz wasn’t about to let up, and scooped Sia up by her hair and hit a pretty standard brainbuster on her, followed by a quick pin.
There was a near instant kick-out from Izzy. Cruz opted to gather his arms around the smaller Sia’s neck and apply a sort of crouched sleeper hold on her, but this ended up being a miscalculation; Sia landed a blindingly fast leg sweep and scrambled up Cruz’s back deftly, trying to lock in a rear naked choke. Fortunately for Cruz he was able to power out of it…but upon getting to his feet, he was met with a series of karate and roundhouse kicks that would have Sia’s colleague Burkhalter blushing. With Cruz on all fours, Sia tried an ankle lock this time, but her opponent was able to grab a handful of the ropes.
After referee Rolento Sheng separated the two competitors and reset them, Cruz tried not to over-think his approach. He shot for a double leg takedown but was stuffed, so he opted for a belly-to-belly suplex instead. When Sia attempted a speedy retrieval to her feet, she was met with a dropkick. Then Cruz ran the ropes and dropped a picture perfect elbow right on Sia’s head. Cruz, now getting comfortable with the pace, grabbed Izzy up by her hair and executed a fisherman’s suplex into a pinfall. 1…2…no, kickout! The Blackhawk student has tenacity for sure!
A sort of general domination carried on from here. For most of the match, Cruz was in control, though there were times when Izzy’s high kicks and punch combinations had the Texan backpedaling or overtly cautious. At one juncture, it looked like Cruz had this one in the bag; he managed to catch one of Sia’s jabs, convert it into an Irish whip, and smack Izzy with a vicious Russian leg sweep. He IMMEDIATELY went for the pin…1…2…NO! Shoulder up, and Cruz was frustrated! He slapped the mat hard, arguing with Rolento Sheng, but he wasn’t paying attention in his aggravation! Out of NOWHERE Izzy managed to steal an arm and locked in the Keyholder!
Domingo Cruz reached for the ropes, but was nowhere close. Much to the surprise of the crowd, Cruz was forced to tap. (15:19)
WINNER: Izzy Sia; Rating: ****
It would be easy to discount Cruz for his loss here, saying that he can only win against tougher opponents when he’s got Tony Gamble and Frank Pastore to back him up. That would be doing the young man a huge disservice, as he’s proven over and over that he fights like someone with years of experience. He’s strong, technically sound, and smart–smart enough to take Izzy Sia seriously when nobody else was. Domingo Cruz is a star in the making.
I think Burkhalter’s loss last night lit a fire under Izzy Sia, because she definitely brought the heat in this one. One win might have been a lucky draw, and even two could be a fluke, but with a berth in the semi-finals, she’s making all her doubters look like fools. Including myself, I’m sorry to say.
Lord Kurosame-sama spoke with “Hot Buttered” Leroy Scrumptious, winner of the 2021 Belmont Classic, at ringside. When asked what it takes to go the distance, he said…something.
“It’s like a big ol’ stack a pancakes. You show up to the building. And you’re hungry. And you know inside there’s all the flapjacks you can eat. Thirty-two of ’em. And then round one happens, and you eat that first cake, and then they add the butter. It gets all melty… starts… seepin’ in to all the little crannies. Makes everything real good. Then round two comes and you eat that second flapjack. And you know what you get then? The syrup! They bring out the syrup. It’s all hot… and sticky… and it makes everything oh so sweet. And you know that you just gotta survive one more, and then you get ’em all. You get all the FLAP-JACKS! You get the powdered sugar, so it looks like snow. You get the bacon. You get all the hot cakes you can eat! That’s what winnin’ the Belmont feels like. Big ol’ smile and a fully belly.”
CONNOR NACKEDY vs. ROSE
Things looked bad for Nackedy early into the contest when KING’s Rose viciously attacked him just as the bell rang, pounding on the son of Foster with devastating kicks. Connor was able to defend himself and weather the storm enough that when Rose got overzealous and overconfident in her striking, Connor reversed and sent Rose into the corner. Some technical wrestling from Nackedy left Rose flabbergasted in the ring, leading into a German suplex that sent Rose retreating to the outside.
Nackedy gave chase, but Rose sent him crashing into the stairs on a bad charge, and kicked away at him while he laid against the stairs. Back inside, Rose worked an armbar while looking for a jujigatame, but Nackedy was able to grasp his hands to avoid certain disaster. His efforts led him to nearly pin Rose’s shoulders to the mat after he managed to stand up, forcing Rose to give up the armbar. A scramble led to another German suplex, but this time Rose flipped through it and landed on her feet. A superkick stunned Nackedy, allowing Rose to get a near fall with an Asai moonsault!
After Rose put down Nackedy with a sling blade, she went up to the top rope for the Wilt to Bloom. However, Nackedy recovered quickly and landed a big belly-to-belly superplex that would’ve gotten three if Rose’s foot wasn’t in the ropes! Nackedy pulled her into a pair of vertical suplexes, but an attempt at a third one led Rose to spin out and hit him with a Pele kick that sent him to the outside. Rose then took a running start, jumped up onto the middle rope, and then landed the springboard tope con hilo that put Nackedy on the ground. Rose re-entered the ring and seemed content to take the countout victory, but Nackedy persevered and got back in the ring at the count of nine. That’s when he was put somewhere subterranean with the Thorn Prick, which might have actually picked up the win outright if Nackedy wasn’t so close to the ropes.
Pulling him into prime position, Rose once again set herself up for Wilt to Bloom. This time, it looked like she would connect with it, but Nackedy put up his knees at the last second! Rose landed hard, and was left vulnerable to Nackedy’s Rhine Rewind… which picked up the victory! (12:48)
WINNER: Connor Nackedy; Rating: ***
Everything Rose displayed last night was writ larger here, especially her sheer ruthlessness. I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone come as close to the line without crossing it when she was kicking at Nackedy while he was under the ring steps. But like with so many things, a strength can be turned into a weakness, and we saw that at the end of the match.
Connor Nackedy showed impressive fortitude here, standing up to some blistering offense and coming through at the end. For all his attributes, that might be his most impressive. Great win for this young man.
Dustin Callais spoke with Joseph London, longtime play-by-play announcer for the Midwest Wrestling Kartel and other places. He talked briefly about the event (excellent as always) and his cancer diagnosis (responding well to treatment) but mostly he talked about how well his daughter Chloe had taken to the trade. “She’s been in radio and podcasts before this, so I knew she’d be great. I couldn’t be more proud.”
GABRIEL “Baconator” MARTINEZ VS. LA MUERTE ROJA
Two wins in the Belmont to go with his runner-up finish at the LUCHA ESPECIAL 4 torneo cibernetico. Gabriel Martinez was rolling strong, but La Muerte Roja had a similar head of steam. Two hungry young wrestlers meeting in the quarterfinals. Young Gabriel shot out of the cannon with high velocity, and velocity multiplied by mass equals momentum. He overpowered Muerte early with his big size advantage, but as with Muerte, he was able to muscle back into the match with guile–and by guile, I mean cheating. An eye poke took down the hard-charging and Rubenesque competitor.
Muerte worked Gabriel over with a wide array of joint manipulation and leverage holds, working in his training from both Mexico and England. That’s a grappler’s dream right there, and a nightmare fo Martinez. Muerte dragged him out to deep waters–less a statement about young Gabriel’s cardio so much as how flustering Muerte was here. In fact, Red Death’s dominance on the mat elicited groans from the crowd. If only he didn’t get so darn cocky. Like to the tune of samba dancing on the top rope before trying to deliver the Del Cielo al Infierno, which he predictably missed. Baconator had his in, thumping at him with huge right hands, backing him into the corner, and smushing him with a big splash.
The comeback was short-lived however. An eye gouge at the height of a powerbomb attempt put Red Death back in control. This time, the submissions ground down more, looked more painful. La Muerte Roja didn’t just want to make Baconator submit, he wanted to make him cry it seemed. The crowd roared in admiration when he got the big man on his back for a Gory special. Staple submission for a learned lucha libre liaison, but for someone at that deficit of weight to get the larger man up, even the fiercest tecnico fans had to clap.
With a little less hubris this time, Muerte stalked over to the ropes to try his finisher again, but the big man caught his second wind. Left! Right! Left! Right! Belly-to-belly side suplex! Gabriel Martinez was a HOUSE ON FIRE against the Red Devil. Flying crossbody netted two. Powerbomb got him another two count. It looked like he would win the match and punch his ticket to the semifinals. He dragged Muerte over to the corner for the Bacon Bomb.
Then the lights went out.
When they went back on, Gabriel was left standing facing the crowd, confused and befuddled. Muerte was standing right behind him, leaping up with one fell motion. Lungblower. Baconator held his chest, gasping for air, but by this point, Muerte smelled blood. The top rope back elbow didn’t work for him, so he went to another well. The arms. The fulcrum armbreaker left Baconator’s entire upper body writhing in pain, and all that was left to do was count the pin. While the officials wondered how the lights went out, there was nothing they could do. The referee’s count was final. (13:38)
WINNER: La Muerte Roja; Rating: ***
Another strong showing for the Baconator, proving himself as capable against a fellow lucha as he was against a fellow big man. The distraction from the power outage might have cost him a spot in the semifinals, and I expect to see a ruling from the Belmont Foundation about the use of magic powers in the near future.
La Muerte Roja is in rare air now, becoming the last of the final four. With every match he seems to get more clever, cutthroat, and dangerous. The sudden use of a fulcrum armbreaker should cause great concern for the other remaining wrestlers.
Backstage, Lord Kurosame-sama was found by the coffee station, which suddenly lacked all the security measures that had previously been installed. There he spoke with Chetna Paswan-Beckett, a Minneapolis-based CPA and occasional guest on the popular YouTube channel “Beckett Wreck It.” She spoke glowingly of the change in direction ushered in by new Foundation president Shweta Kallemullah.
“I think it’s great that they’ve placed an extra emphasis on keeping people safe. Now everyone can focus on the action and having a good time, and not worrying about airship theft or the destruction of all reality. Isn’t that right, Charles?”
A nearby plant sagged, then stepped out of its pot and moped away.
CRASH vs. IZZY SIA
The arena was electric as Masked Justice rang the bell to kick off this semifinal match. Crash came out hot and really threw his weight around. An unfortunate Izzy was on the receiving end of an early Frankensteiner, with a stomach-turning landing on her head. Being an honorable warrior, Crash took a corner while Masked Justice tended to Izzy. She was helped to her feet by the official and although the fans were clearly behind Crash, she received a standing ovation.
There was a bit of back and forth between Izzy and Masked Justice once Izzy was on her feet, while the Northern Light patiently waited in his corner. After pleading her case and assuring Masked Justice she was fine, the match was allowed to continue. The fans once again gave a resounding applause as the two fighters squared up again. Izzy showed no signs of backing down even though she had just taken what could’ve been a career ending bump,
Crash tried once again to use his massive size advantage to overpower Izzy, but this time she took control, using Crash’s own momentum to roll him off her hips. For the next few minutes the match stayed on the ground. Izzy dominated with a mixture of submission and rest holds. Each time Crash would power his way out Izzy would deftly slip into place to lock in a new hold, mainly focusing on the lower half of the high flier. Ultimately Crash was able to grab a rope and pull himself out of the ring to catch his breath, but this catch style back-and-forth really took it out of him.
Back in the ring the competitors went at one another with vigor. Izzy laid a number of strategically placed strikes while Crash landed a huge springboard dropkick and a hurricanrana off the top rope. The crowd was amazed at the fiery intensity both opponents brought to the ring. Throughout this portion of the bout Izzy used every opportunity to work the legs of Crash. After a particularly nasty leg kick the Buffalo Kid was visibly limping.
As the match went on it was evident not only this spectacle had taken its toll on these fighters, but so had the event as a whole. That being said, these valiant fighters did not waiver. The fans roared with each turn of the momentum. Crash really engaged the crowd, raising his arms to get them cheering before delivering a frog splash that bounced both competitors off the mat before hooking the leg.
But still, Izzy rose!
Izzy and Crash both took their time getting to their feet, the frenzied crowd cheering both of them on. Fueled by the overwhelming energy of the crowd they charged at one another again. New York’s Finest ducked under Izzy’s little big right hand, locking her into a German suplex. This time Izzy stayed down.
Crash climbed to the top rope and steadied himself above Izzy. The arena exploded with screams as Crash pointed one finger high into the air. Everyone was on their feet in anticipation. Crash moved through the air like a hawk- graceful and deadly. Just as Crash was about to make contact, Izzy managed to pull her knees up. Crash clutched his ribs as he rolled away, but with the huge size disparity between the two this still did plenty of damage to Izzy.
Both competitors lay still as Masked Justice began his ten count. Around four or five both wrestlers began to stir. Just as Justice passed seven, Crash pulled himself up onto Izzy. Masked Justice dropped to the ground to count the pin, but Izzy rolled with Crash’s momentum sending him flipping to his back. Before anyone could realize what happened, Izzy was on a side mount and securing the Keyholder!
Crash tried to hold on and nearly made it out, but ultimately had to give in to the pain. (17:04)
WINNER: Izzy Sia; Rating: ****
Stellar performance by Crash here, who had a great tournament and–maybe better than anyone else this weekend–captured the true spirit of the Belmont Classic. Maybe he could have wrestled a smarter match, but he’s the kind that goes entirely on heart…and it just wouldn’t be the same if he didn’t.
Every time I think I’ve seen what Izzy Sia can do, she shows something else. This time, it was sheer determination. While it would have been easy–and probably smart–to call it a night after that injury, she refused to give in, powered through, and came out on top. Nobody who’s watching can doubt that she has earned her place in the final match.
At ringside, Dustin Callais interviewed last year’s winner, Jennifer Colton. She talked about how special the tournament is, and what winning the Belmont has meant for her career.
“It opened up so much for me. The MVW contract, the title matches, a bigger reach–my socials blew up this year. I could have been grinding for years without this. But the best part is…like, it’s just coming back here. You can feel the history, the people, this…whole big thing. And I’m a part of that now. It’s incredible.”
CONNOR NACKEDY vs. LA MUERTE ROJA
Mind games occurred early in this contest, as La Muerte Roja kept slipping away from Nackedy’s attempts to lock up and stalled out on the floor a couple of times. Nackedy didn’t take the bait on these attempts to trick him into chasing after him, forcing the luchador to actually attempt to wrestle his opponent. While Roja’s size advantage worked out in this regard, Nackedy battled back and eventually landed a big dropkick that sent the luchador to the floor. A plancha followed this, and Roja was on his back foot for the first time in the tournament!
Nackedy fought Roja on the floor, knocking him into the guardrails. An attempt to Irish whip him into the guardrails was reversed, though, and Roja came in with a knee to the guts right afterwards. Back inside, Roja ground down Nackedy with catch wrestling, but couldn’t put him away as he kept fighting through it. Eventually, Roja overcommitted to a camel clutch, only for Nackedy to slip out and land a release German suplex that put Roja to the mat.
At this point, Roja once again tried to retreat to the outside, slithering to the floor like a snake. This time, Nackedy gave chase only for Roja to throw him into the stairs. He beat Nackedy against the stairs with several knees before rolling Foster’s battered son into the ring for a two count. Roja went into a brutal armbar submission, but Nackedy refused to submit and found his way to the ropes. Roja pounded on Nackedy in the corner, but all this did was fire Nackedy up as he’d trained with far worse monsters than Roja. So he suddenly stood and roared in Roja’s face, daring him to hit him harder. Roja complied, but despite this, Nackedy suddenly shot behind him and landed another German suplex!
Nackedy followed this up with a big Exploder suplex, and then completed the trifecta with a floatover butterfly suplex that almost got three! Roja was in a daze as Nackedy ascended to the top rope for a top rope crossbody, but Roja rolled through it and landed a powerslam for his own near fall! Roja ascended to the top rope for his patented Del Cielo al Infierno flying spinning back elbow, but Nackedy leapt up to the top rope to meet him and sent him crashing to the mat with a belly-to-belly suplex!
Roja was flung to the outside, but unlike before, this was very involuntary and Nackedy was able to collect him and deliver another big German suplex out on the floor! Roja didn’t know which state he was in after that one, and Nackedy tossed him back into the ring and climbed to the top rope. He looked to land a moonsault, but Roja put his knees up… only for Nackedy to catch the legs and put him in an anklelock!
Nackedy kept pulling Roja back into the center of the ring on the anklelock just as he reached the ropes, but Roja eventually countered into a rollup for a close nearfall! Roja faked a clothesline and landed a DDT when Nackedy ducked it, and that set up Del Cielo al Infierno. Roja flew for his knockout blow, but caught a dropkick in midair! That led to Nackedy landing Looking Forward to pick up the win and his spot in the finals! (14:06)
WINNER: Connor Nackedy; Rating: ***½
La Muerte Roja had been running rings around his opponents until now, thanks to his ring intelligence…but mind games aren’t much good against an opponent who’s decided they don’t want to play. That’s what happened here, and La Muerte’s in-ring skills couldn’t quite make up the difference. Still, he came out of this weekend as a breakout star–La Muerte put on an excellent (if unnerving) show all weekend, and only narrowly missed the final.
After yesterday’s disappearing act, there had been some talk about how Connor Nackedy might not be mentally prepared for a stage this large. I think we can put that talk to bed, because Nackedy seems to be growing more confident with every match. He has risen to every occasion thus far, and the final match should be one for the record books.
A final intermission was called. According to our reporters, Izzy Sia spent the time going over strategy with Nate Robideau, while Connor Nackedy did the same with his trainer, Jon Rhine.
Before the final match started, fans were treated to an In Memoriam tribute for all the wrestlers who passed in 2023, followed by a ten-bell salute.
After that, Dylan Earley introduced the finalists, both of whom came to the ring to raucous cheers from the crowd.
CONNOR NACKEDY vs. IZZY SIA
Things started slow, with neither party eager to make an early mistake or expend unneeded energy. They traded a few transitions, going from wristlock to armbar to side headlock…and that’s when Nackedy made his first move, wrapping his arms around Sia and hitting her with a surprise back suplex! He went for a quick pin, and when Sia kicked out he quickly transitioned to a side headlock, working on her neck.
Izzy Sia immediately fired back, slipping out of the headlock and driving a knee into Connor’s ribs. That opening gave her the chance to start working Nackedy’s arm, first with knee and elbow strikes, then with different holds.
It became very clear that each of them had a specific target: Sia worked Nackedy’s arm, while Connor went after Sia’s neck. In response they both switched up their defensive tactics, and that’s when Connor started to pull ahead–while Sia refused to deviate from her plan, Connor opened up his arsenal a little more, going for quicker offense as a way to open up further lines of attack.
This worked well for a while, until he whipped Sia into the ropes and set up for a back body drop. He telegraphed the move, allowing Sia to counter with a stiff knee to the face. He started bleeding–not sure if it was from the nose or mouth–and that was the opening Izzy needed.
Sia hammered her opponent with several strong kicks, putting him back on the mat. She went for a cross armbreaker but couldn’t quite get it locked in; when it looked like Connor was about to escape, she quickly rolled away and transitioned to a kneebar, keeping Nackedy on the mat.
Izzy Sia kept the pressure on, not letting Nackedy back into the match or out of the ring. Any time he got close to the ropes, she’d drag him back to the center and apply a new hold. No doubt she learned that relentlessness at Blackhawk Fight Gym, and it was serving her very well here.
She kept working the arm, and soon had Connor trapped in a wristlock, no doubt looking to soften Nackedy up for the finish. But before she knew what was happening, Nackedy twisted himself around to escape the hold and transitioned directly into a Northern Lights Suplex! The pinfall attempt only got two, but Nackedy immediately rolled to his feet and nailed Sia with a knee to the face before she could get up!
Shaking the pain out of his arm, Nackedy followed with a series of slams and suplexes. A lot of them didn’t have the strong impact Connor wanted, thanks to the damage done to his limbs, but they were enough to put him in control and wear down Sia even farther.
Before long, Izzy was struggling to get up or fight back, and Connor Nackedy moved in for the kill. Rhine Rewind, right in the middle of the ring. No chance to grab the ropes or slide out of the ring.
She didn’t need them, kicking out just before Barlow’s count reached three.
Feeding off the crowd’s energy, Izzy pressed the attack again–she grabbed Nackedy’s arm, held it across her knee, and fell backwards. As Connor fell back and clutched his arm in pain, Sia moved in and went for the Keyholder…but Nackedy managed to break the hold by driving his knee into the gap and separating Sia’s hands.
It took them a while to get back up, obviously needing a breather from the exertion and frustration, and simultaneously got up at six. They went right at each other again, sensing that the next big move could be the one that ended it.
That move looked to be delivered by Connor as he set up the Rhine Rewind again, but Sia quickly countered right into the Keyholder! Nackedy’s arm was locked in tight, but he had just enough range to graze his foot against the bottom rope, and Ashley Barlow forced the break!
It was clear by now that either one would do anything to win…but “anything” can mean…well, anything.
To Izzy Sia, it clearly meant she was willing to try again for the submission. Connor would tap out, or suffer a broken arm. Either way, victory would be hers.
Not willing to lose her advantage, Sia slipped behind Connor and planted him with a tiger suplex, but didn’t go for the bridge! Instead, she went back for that right arm…but as she went to lock in the Keyholder one more time, Connor pulled her off balance and rolled her over, trapping her in a cradle. A well-timed counter and a perfectly-executed pinfall.
For Connor, “anything” meant finding a reason to push through the pain, the exhaustion, the frustration, and finding that spark in his heart that would lead to victory.
Nackedy got to his feet first, but he seemed to be staring at something–or someone–in the crowd rather than his opponent. Again, Connor grabbed Izzy Sia, hoping to finish the match. Again, Izzy grabbed his arm to counter into the Keyholder.
History would not repeat. Connor held fast, not allowing Sia to break his grip on her. Then he drove his forehead into hers, knocking her for a loop. With the crowd in a frenzy, he lifted her into the air.
We’ve switched back and forth on the name over the course of the weekend, thanks to input from an anonymous source. From yesterday until now, we’ve been using its original name–the Rhine Rewind.
This time, Connor Nackedy slammed Izzy Sia onto the canvas and there was no question on what he was doing.
And as Ashley Barlow’s hand hit the mat for the third time, “anything”…was everything. (24:01)
WINNER OF THE 2023 BELMONT CLASSIC
This ranks among the best Belmont finales of all time. Izzy fought like a ten-year veteran, showing an amount of fire and tenacity rarely seen in this tournament. Her one fatal flaw was an unwillingness to deviate from her plan. She was so committed to winning via the Keyholder that she passed on several other opportunities to win the match. In comparison to her strengths it’s a very minor weakness, and one that will soon be addressed. Regardless of the outcome, Izzy Sia cemented her place in the wrestling world this weekend, and will be a force for years to come.
Connor Nackedy also fought at a level beyond his years, adapting well to Izzy’s strategy and pushing through adversity. Not only has he been trained well, he also has the intangibles. This weekend we saw his courage, determination, and heart on full display–all things that can grant success when wrestling talent and skill have failed. Of all those who enter the Belmont Classic every year, only one gets to etch their name in history, and Connor has emphatically done that here in 2023.
The official celebration…took a moment to get started. Dylan Earley had only just started to make the announcement, and Ashley Barlow was still raising Connor’s hand for the crowd, when the young man suddenly bolted from the ring! He headed right for Dustin Callais, who was stationed at the front of the crowd for post-show interviews, practically jumped over the guard rail, and the two began to kiss!
I’ve been asked by my staff not to make another comment about journalistic detachment. Suffice to say we’re all very happy for Dustin. (That said, Maeva, I will not be providing full play-by-play for this.)
They were still at it as the Belmont Classic trophy was brought to the ring, followed closely by Belmont Foundation president Shweta Kallemullah. As more people filtered through the entrance from backstage, Nackedy finally relented and returned to the ring…but at the same time, a few stage hands began undoing the ring ropes from one corner.
The reason for this wasn’t clear until a few wrestlers had gathered around Dustin Callais and hoisted him into the air, chair and all! I saw Lem Hawthorne, Myrtle Kombat, and the Dasher twins lift him over the guard rail and hand him off to Crash, Freddie Sparks, and Brick Mayhew, who then carried him to the ring! Before long Dustin and Connor were side-by-side again, and Nackedy was finally ready to accept his trophy.
The gathered crowd wasn’t done yet, though! Jon Rhine had made his way to ringside, and the gathered wrestlers gave him the same treatment, allowing him to celebrate with his student. More of Nackedy’s loved ones were making their way to the party, including his mother Magen, his uncle Ian…and finally his father tentatively approached the apron, where he was invited to join the celebration.
At last, the trophy was presented, and the ring was filled with handshakes, hugs, and tears. Connor accepted the accolades and smiled for everyone, but keen-eyed observers would note that the biggest smiles were saved for Dustin Callais.
The meaning of the Belmont Classic changes slightly with every iteration, but this one felt like a sea change. In a sport so often defined by hatred and aggression, this year’s tournament showed that it doesn’t have to be.
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Renner: Nackedy/Rose, Nackedy/Muerte
TH: Moriton/Crash, Muerte/Martinez
Thanks to everyone who allowed the use of their characters.
For Rob Gaughran Jr.