September 9th, 2017 is a night that WrestleZone fans will never forget, and for good reason.
The evening saw WrestleZone head to one of their home venues in the form of Aberdeen’s Northern Hotel for their annual summer extravaganza, Battle of the Nations. As is always the case with WrestleZone’s bigger events, the card that had been put together for the night was truly sensational. From Aspen Faith defending the Tri-Counties Championship against a then-active Johnny Lions to the in-ring return of Crusher Craib in his demolition of Scotty Swift to the wild brawl between The Rejected and The Sterling Brothers, there was something for everyone on the card.
Despite all of these outstanding matches, though, the main takeaway from the night was the ending to the show.
Following his retention of the Undisputed WrestleZone Championship in the evening’s main event, Shawn Johnson was joined in the ring by the rest of Sterling Oil. Just picture it like this – we had Shawn, who had just retained the top prize in WrestleZone. We had Crusher Craib, who had just sent Scotty Swift packing from the venue on a stretcher. We had Alan and William Sterling, who had just become five-time Tag Team Champions, while also sending Mikkey Vago to join ‘The Red Haired Warrior’ in hospital. We had Richard R. Russell, who, despite having his wig removed, was ecstatic for all of his guys. And then we had Damien, visibly deflated following a loss in what many described as WrestleZone’s greatest match (perhaps still behind the first Bingo Ballance/Stevie Xavier encounter, depending on your tastes), despite putting in the fight of his life.
It was time for every member of Sterling Oil, Damien included, to say what they were thankful for in Sterling Oil terms. What did the inaugural Undisputed Champion have to say, I hear you cry from a socially distanced angle? Only one thing, that being a superkick to the jaw of his now-former stablemate, Shawn Johnson. Damien had finally snapped out of the Richard R. Russell spell, and was his own man once more. If you were that night, you know the reaction. If you’ve gone back to watch it online since, you still know.
For me, it remains one of the biggest moments in WrestleZone history. For years, even after the initial incarnation of Sterling Oil had parted ways in late 2013, Damien had never been cheered by the WrestleZone faithful. But, he had always been the guy you could count on for a decent match time after time. It’s what helped him be featured on a couple of Discovery Wrestling shows in the company’s early days, which came at a point when no-one outside of the north-east was really speaking of the Granite City as a go-to for quality wrestling. Being up in this bubble as opposed to in the central belt takes nothing away from how the WrestleZone shows are produced, as longtime fans of the promotion have known for years.
The pot had been brewing for Damien to leave Sterling Oil more or less since Shawn joined the group at Christmas Chaos (Comes Early!) in November 2015, blindsiding Granite City Hotshots pal Bryan Tucker in favour of becoming a Richard R. Russell guy. When the former Hotshot initially joined arms with Damien and friends, things didn’t really change right off the bat. After all, on the same night Johnson aligned himself with the faction, ‘The Revolutionary’ had defeated both Tucker and former Revolution partner Johnny Lions to earn the right to challenge then-Undisputed Champion, Scotty Swift, for the title at the first show of 2016 – Summerhill Showdown.
So, skip ahead two months, enter January 2016, as WrestleZone kicked off the year at the Summerhill Hotel (as it was then known). All in all, it was a successful night for the Sterling Oil lads. The Sterling Brothers had defeated Los Cystos, before announcing their intentions to come after the Tag Team Championships, while Shawn Johnson – in his first match as a Sterling Oil member, keep in mind – was successful against the returning Kenny Williams. Additionally, Johnny Lions, who Damien had been campaigning for to join forces again, was defeated by former rival Crusher Craib, with ‘The Creator of Carnage’ showing a rare sign of respect to ‘The Tenacious One’ post-match.
All that was left was for Damien to bring the Undisputed Championship back to Sterling Oil once more. Easy, right?
Despite, once again, putting in quite a hefty effort against Swift, Damien found himself on the defensive against the defending champion Swift. Towards the end of the bout, however, everything looked to be going his way, as referee Mikey Innes took a tumble, allowing the remainder of Sterling Oil to enter, and assist their comrade in his championship quest. Even Johnny Lions entered the ringside area, removing his jacket to reveal a Sterling Oil t-shirt – the same shirt he had been presented with the previous November. By the looks of things, we were guaranteed a new Undisputed Champion in the form of Damien.
As history would have it, though, Damien would be unsuccessful in his journey back to the top of WrestleZone, as Lions instead decided to Lion Cutter all of Sterling Oil – minus Shawn Johnson, which is a key component of this story arc. Not only did Johnny cost his former partner the championship, it also planted the first seeds for the future championship-winning partnership known as The Swift Lions.
This marked the first real time Damien had been the one to let Sterling Oil down. Sure, he’d failed in another championship challenge the previous summer at Battle of the Nations 2015 – exactly three months after Sterling Oil’s reformation, and the night Richard R. Russell made his grand return – but that was technically a disqualification win after Swift utilised a steel chair.
He couldn’t be blamed for the loss on that August evening, and even though he realistically couldn’t be blamed for this loss either, given Lions’ interference, the focus of the golden boy in Sterling Oil saw Damien slowly fizzle into the background in favour of Shawn Johnson.
You see, two months later at the Regal Rumble, it was Shawn who was chosen to replace the suspended Alan Sterling to challenge Mr P and Kaden Garrick for the Tag Team Championships. It was Shawn who had the number 20 spot in the annual Regal Rumble Match. What did Damien have? The first of many exciting bouts against Johnny Lions, and an early number in the Rumble that saw him submit to newcomer Jimbo Bannon. Granted, Shawn never actually won the match following the surprise return of a vengeful Bryan Tucker, but the fact Russell had handpicked him to be part of the number-deciding match against Aspen Faith and Blue Thunder a few weeks prior as opposed to Damien was a focal point in establishing the new golden boy of Sterling Oil.
Months passed by, and with each moment, Damien slipped further and further down the pecking order within Sterling Oil. Two further failed attempts to yank the title away from Scotty Swift’s waist – one at Battle of the Nations, and the other in Keith – was the final moment Richard R. Russell needed to realise who he needed to invest his time and effort in.
Spoiler alert – it wasn’t ‘The Revolutionary’.
For the following year, Damien embarked on a huge losing streak heading into the summer. The Sterling Oil man was unsuccessful in both the Tri-Counties Championship Tournament, losing to Bingo Ballance in the quarterfinals, and the 2017 Regal Rumble Match, where Shawn Johnson failed to save him from elimination, before going on to win the whole thing himself. The face Damien showed pulled at Shawn as he was hoisted onboard The Sterling Brothers’ shoulders told you everything you needed to know.
Things got even more interesting at Aberdeen Anarchy, a night that began with Damien again losing to Johnny Lions. At the conclusion of the night, however, came Shawn’s title challenge against Scotty Swift. With the referee taking a fall, it allowed the rest of Sterling Oil – who had been ejected from ringside early into the bout – to storm the ring in order to finally bring the Undisputed Championship into the ranks of Sterling Oil. Just as it looked like Swift was outnumbered, the returning Crusher Craib, who was providing guest commentary after announcing his return earlier in the evening, seemingly came to aid the man he had lost to the year before.
What did Crusher do, though? He booted Swift straight in the jaw, costing him the title, and siding with Sterling Oil in the process as Russell’s newest acquisition. However, that all came after he had swatted Damien aside, with ‘The Revolutionary’ not being told of their new alliance beforehand. Once again, Damien had been forgotten about.
With Shawn as the champion, Crusher as the new monster, and Alan and William chasing the tag gold, Damien was swept to the side by Richard, who now saw no real use for the inaugural Undisputed Champion. Despite this, WrestleZone management did see something.
It’s why he was chosen for the marquee match at Battle of the Nations in September 2017. Even though he hadn’t picked up a victory in months at this point, the higher powers knew that they could rely on the revolution fanatic to produce a high-quality bout for the live crowd. That, he did.
What’s important to note here is that, even though Damien lost, there was no outside interference from any of the other Sterling Oil members. Damien had made it clear in the run up to the real Biggest Party of the Summer™ that he didn’t want any help. This was his moment to prove to everyone that he was capable of performing at the highest level possible on one of the biggest platforms on offer. He may have been defeated on the night, but on September 9th, 2017, Damien finally stood on his own two feet with an army of supporters around him.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Since the superkick to Shawn, Damien went on to achieve a further three reigns as Undisputed Champion, first usurping Johnson at Halloween Hijinx a month after turning on him, the second time at Aberdeen Anarchy X the following September in WrestleZone’s first-ever Steel Cage Match – also against Shawn – and the third a few months later at a special April edition of Aberdeen Anarchy by regaining the gold from RUDO Lightning. Amongst all of his championship glory, ‘The Revolutionary’ has consistently produced quality performances, most notably at Battle of the Nations 2018 against Richard R. Russell, in what has to be the greatest storytelling match in recent Scottish wrestling history. It’s certainly up there, at least.
None of this could have happened without that moment. A night that had been stirring for months. A night that ended in one of the greatest cheers the Northern Hotel has ever seen. A night that makes this writer miss the live wrestling shows very dearly.
Cover photo credit David J. Wilson (Damien promo pic), Facebook.com/crushercraib (Crusher and Shawn promo pic), and Brian Battensby Photography (background)