When I first started writing with PWDU in early 2023 I wrote an article providing an overview of some of Australia’s top companies. I didn’t realise it at the time, but including Deathmatch Downunder proved a controversial choice.
Since then things have only gotten worse for DMDU, with small crowds, talent cancellations and last minute venue changes – sadly, you couldn’t possibly include them anywhere near a list of Australia’s top companies in October of 2023.
Worse is the fact that they owe fans around $13,000 from a crowd-funding venture for their own venue that fell over. The Wrestle Radio Australia podcast has been speaking around this issue for a number of months, but recently decided to lift the lid on any ambiguity, calling out DMDU and its promoter Joel Bateman for failing to pay back fans, and also calling out fans for allowing them to get away with making false promises.
I don’t claim that this is an exhaustive history of DMDU – rather, in light of the year that DMDU is having, I wanted to provide one account of why I thought DMDU was important and why I wanted it to be successful.
DMDU couldn’t have timed their establishment any better. Running their first shows in early 2021, Melbourne was desperate for wrestling – in fact, any entertainment at all – after constant COVID lockdowns in 2020.
DMDU got quite lucky here. They went early with their show bookings, deciding to take on the prospect of future lockdowns and deciding they’d cross that bridge when they got to it. (DMDU’s second event, in February of 2021, was creatively titled “Wash Your Hands!”)
The company did a hell of a lot right in its early days.
One such action was making itself available to podcasts and other websites to discuss the promotion. And they had a great story to tell. DMDU wasn’t going to be just another wrestling company – led by a particularly diverse crew, it was going to be a progressive company with a strong statement of values, a strong code of conduct, and it was going to welcome women and diverse audiences in response to the Speaking Out movement of 2020.
I truly believe that meant a lot to people – I also believe it’s why some people cling to DMDU now. It was a promotion that appealed to, and welcomed the misfits who didn’t feel seen by other companies. It was one of the coolest parts of those early shows – meeting other misfits, seeing people in the same place at every show, seeing people excited to feel embraced.
DMDU’s progressive values extended to inside the ring, presenting female talent on an equal footing to men, which wasn’t really happening at the time in Melbourne (MCW have just commenced an intergender feud.) Early matches involving Charli Evans beating Joel Bateman, Misspent Youth (Aysha & Murdoch) being inaugural tag champs, and Evans making the final of the inaugural Heavyweight title tournament demonstrated the company’s commitment to pushing its female-identifying talent.
Another of the smart moves that DMDU made early on – especially so soon after the pandemic – was to establish its first home base at the Arrow on Swanston, which is essentially in the Melbourne CBD, where you don’t see a lot of wrestling shows. While it also toured regional markets, that regular home at the Arrow contributed to that regular audience of misfits, and it resulted in a regular crowd that numbered in the hundreds.
My first show was April 2021 – the first Not Here to F**k Spiders show. We saw Misspent Youth win the tag belts, but more important for me was the deathmatch between Joel Bateman and Atlas Whittaker. It was the match that changed what I thought deathmatch could be – it was what made me fall in love with the product, not just everything around it. This one match changed how I thought you could tell stories within a deathmatch, and I was falling in love with the product at the same time as I was falling in love with the whole vibe around DMDU.
By May 2021 the company were drawing around 200 people to its Juice is Worth the Squeeze title tournament, which included an insane deathmatch between Callen Butcher and Gweedo, a feud that demonstrated that DMDU’s deathmatch scene wasn’t to be f**ked with.
Then, in November 2021, DMDU experienced another boost in crowd numbers for its inaugural DREAM tournament – a tournament that put DMDU on the global deathmatch map, and was won by Callen Butcher to become DMDU’s first Deathmatch champion.
Within a year of its establishment, DMDU was firing on all cylinders. It had established an original deathmatch scene in Australia with a strong brand and a popular champ. It had mixed gender tag champions that immediately emphasised a point of difference in Melbourne wrestling. And we had a popular inaugural Heavyweight Champ in Ritchie Taylor, who was loved by Melbourne audiences but had never really received the push up until this point.
And the talent we saw in that first year… Tommy Knight, Jess Troy, Avary, Charli Evans… Aussie Open!
This was a serious company providing variety, a central location, and Australia’s best talent.
Unfortunately 2022 didn’t start so well. Ritchie Taylor “retired”, giving up the Heavyweight title (he is since back working with some of Melbourne’s lower tier companies, but is unlikely to ever return to DMDU). His championship successor, Royce Chambers, was also forced to retire due to mental health challenges. Kid Valiant beat Chambers for the title, before immediately losing it to Gore, and the Heavyweight title spent the rest of 2022 being completely de-emphasised as DMDU began to move away from its “variety shows” and towards more deathmatch heavy shows.
March 2022 saw the strange decision to run How I Spent My Summer Vacation up against an MCW show, which resulted in a really ordinary crowd at the Arrow, and the first of the Arrow events where the lighting production began to look lazy.
However, April 2022 was a highlight as US deathmatch star and Bateman & Evans’ Blood Fighter mate Alex Colon toured to decent crowds, and from a storyline perspective the Anti-Deathmatch Party story reached its peak, leading to the announcement of a War Games match in June 2022.
And there, at DMDU Great Emu War Games, in a freezing cold local sporting arena in Melbourne’s inner west, was the zenith of the company. With approximately 400-450 people in attendance, it was DMDU’s biggest ever crowd. And it was a decent show, highlighted by the War Games match and a brutal No-DQ match between Shazza McKenzie and JXT.
However, it was an outrageously long show that went over 4.5 hours, and you could sense the exhaustion and frustration in the crowd.
It’s wild how quickly the company began to fall off after its apex in Altona.
The follow up show to War Games was There Goes The Neighbourhood – in hindsight, the decision to follow up the Altona show with a Shepparton show was a strange one, as the regional shows were never able to gain the attention of DMDU’s Melbourne audience.
The Shepparton show was further harmed by the cancellation of US deathmatch star Alex Colon. The event had been largely promoted around a match between Blood Fighter brethren Alex Colon and Joel Bateman.
There Goes The Neighbourhood was due to be followed up by Taking Back Sunday 3 at the Kindred Bandroom in Yarraville, however Colon’s cancellation resulted in the show being scrubbed altogether.
The following show was the heinously long DREAM 2 show, which clocked in at just over 5 hours – once again, you could sense exhaustion and frustration in the crowd, with DREAM 2 winner Joel Bateman even addressing the length of the show in his post-tournament speech.
With a noticeably smaller crowd than War Games and the previous years DREAM tournament, and with the crowd thinning out during the day due to the length of the show, “stagnation” almost defined the company to a tee.
In September 2022 DMDU announced a crowdfunding project to fund their own 3011 Arena, to be located in Footscray in Melbourne’s inner west. The company’s aim was to raise $15,000, with “contributions, big and small, go(ing) towards developing the required infrastructure, supporting administrative costs and enriching the space in order to present industry-standard wrestling events.”
Controversially, DMDU chose not to use any official crowd-funding webpages, instead asking people to trust the company and donate directly to them, with DMDU claiming that “Our website is set up to streamline all crowdfunding contributions to a separate account from ordinary DMDU funds, for ease of administration. This also means we can easily put together your rewards as a merchandise order either to be posted or collected at a show.”
In doing so the company lost trust from a section of the wrestling community, with even the inaugural DMDU Heavyweight Champion using Instagram to comment on the optics of the situation.
While initial donations proceeded slowly, they had made their way towards $13,000 by November, apparently with help from some larger sponsors/investors who received prominent banners on the company’s webpage.
It wasn’t only the focus on the 3011 Arena that resulted in the company’s stagnation, as issues in-ring also began to present themselves.
The first show following DREAM 2 was in Geelong – despite some major storyline advancements, DMDU once again failed to gain much, if any attention for shows outside of Melbourne. Perhaps the most significant aspect to the show was the suspension of one of DMDU’s partners, Jay Stephens, for one show (for a joke on twitter that offended no one) – they would not return to DMDU, instead quietly stepping away from the company for unknown reasons that the company never addressed.
Next up was the ICW weekend, which DMDU invested a lot of time, resources and promotion into, only for them to have to organise venue relocations at the last minute. This weekend was also the first time that US deathmatch star John Wayne Murdoch would cancel off a DMDU weekend.
The location of the Saturday shows, B.East in Brunswick, wasn’t particularly suitable to wrestling, with a low roof that necessitated a “cut-off ring”. With those ICW shows being streamed on IWTV in front of arguably DMDU’s biggest ever streaming audiences, it looked rubbish – it looked unprofessional and carny.
The “cut-off ring” and Murdoch’s cancellation weren’t the only major issues from the weekend, with cracks starting to show. The Promoter used a promo to abuse one of DMDU’s most dedicated fans, for which he would later apologise. Sunday’s show would be held at Space 338 in North Melbourne, and was arguably the show of the weekend, held in a new venue that looked great – it looked punk, grungy, and warehousey… but DMDU would never use Space 338 again after booking it for “Weekend of Death” in April 2023 before being forced to relocate the shows at the 11th hour.
Despite the relative success of the final show of ICW weekend, the weekend as a whole was arguably a sour note on which to head into an end of year break – these ICW did not appear to be a success from a crowd attendance perspective, and they would be the final shows until February 2023, by which time the company was imploding.
2023 – Is DMDU Doomed?
It was the opposite of a hot start to 2023 for DMDU, as the crowd funding program fell apart.
Just two days before the Pour Decisions 2 show, which was to open the 3011 Arena and thank donors, DMDU announced the shows cancellation, and for the first time announced there were issues with the venue. (This was after also choosing to sell tickets to a show that was promoted as being exclusive to donors.)
At the same time, they announced that the new Anarchy promotion would no longer be hosting its inaugural show at 3011 Arena, and the DMDU show scheduled the week following Pour Decisions was also being moved.
While this was going on, DMDU’s inaugural Deathmatch Champion Callen Butcher, who had been central to the company’s success in and out of the ring, announced he was stepping away from the company due to mental health issues. His partner, Erin Dick, who had also been critical to the company’s behind the scenes activities, followed him out the door.
(For more about Callen and Erin’s final few months in DMDU, listen to the incredible podcast that Erin recorded for the ABC at https://www.abc.net.au/listen/programs/earshot/follow-me-to-the-death/102157370)
In the midst of the behind the scenes turmoil, DMDU’s Philadelphia&Chicago&Tokyo&Footscray show was a good quality show – albeit one held in front of one of DMDU’s smallest audiences to date, around 60-70 people. Regardless of the crowd sizes, I don’t think there was ever any doubt that the talent always gave 100%.
Following this show, DMDU mainstay Damien Rivers announced that he was stepping away, while another mainstay in York was ostensibly fired by the company, with DMDU saying they would no longer be using him following social media accusations made by a former partner. It was established that DMDU were aware of these allegations well before choosing to act on them – a questionable approach given the company’s stated values in light of its post-Speaking Out establishment – DMDU failed to provide an adequate reply to its supporters.
The next shows for DMDU were on the “Weekend of Death” alongside New Zealand’s Heathen Combat promotion. US deathmatch star John Wayne Murdoch had been booked and promoted for this show – his appearance was cancelled only days before the scheduled shows with a terrible, wishy-washy explanation given about “the stars not aligning” (the second time Murdoch had cancelled off DMDU)… However the reasoning behind his cancellation became quite obvious when one saw the show attendance.
Heathen Combat ran its show on Friday night, with DMDU running two shows on the Saturday – Pain Remains in the afternoon and Not Here to F*ck Spid3rs in the evening.
These shows resulted in more last minute turmoil, as DMDU was ejected from its venue – Space 338, where it had previously ran an ICW show – less than 24 hours before the show. The company somehow managed to get a last minute booking at its original home of the Arrow, but it was hard to avoid the stench of death. There was no production, the music came and went, and there was controversy post-show following a Jay Hunter segment that involved talent who were allegedly untrained or undertrained.
Pain Remains took place in front of an audience of under 40 people, and I was personally reminded of the Forever Hardcore documentary about ECW, where a fan recalled being told “if you want any merch, buy it now because you won’t be back.”
I was wrong about their demise – DMDU have since run further shows – but the Weekend of Death felt like exactly that. I found myself buying t-shirts and trading cards because this looked and felt like the death of the company. While Not Here to F*ck Spid3rs was better attended, estimates still only suggested approximately 75-80 people for what DMDU has tried to establish as a major annual show.
Following the Weekend of Death, DMDU went quiet on social media, and while it had announced further shows during the Weekend of Death, the company started to face pressure around the crowd funding project and plans to refund donors.
It took until June 2023 for the promoter to email supporters and pledge to repay donations within 3-4 weeks. This didn’t happen – on the contrary, DMDU ran two shows and the promoter embarked on an overseas tour without having repaid any donors. The first of these shows, Such Is Life, took place in late July in another new home at Hopper’s Crossing – a very suburban location that I fear alienates a lot of DMDU’s remaining fans. This was followed by DMDU’s annual DREAM tournament that took place in early September, also in Hopper’s Crossing, involving a number of overseas and interstate wrestlers, with donors still not having received refunds.
Of course, DREAM wasn’t to go off without a hitch, with widespread criticism online of DMDU’s failure to enforce age restrictions on the crowd for a show that would feature intense death matches, including the use of fire, and questions around how international and interstate wrestlers were flown in when fans were still owed money.
People ask why fans continued to support DMDU. It owed fans money. Its crowds were dying. Its internationals were regularly cancelling.
For me there were two reasons I supported DMDU for as long as I did, and they’re two elements that I believe have created a legacy in Melbourne wrestling.
The first legacy – a positive one – is that people showed their desire to support deathmatch wrestling, to support different wrestlers, and to support so-called “intergender wrestling.” For me, Charli Evans was a massive draw, DMDU was the only place in Melbourne I could see her. Same with Everett Connors. Others like Jordan Samson are enormously talented, but only get booked in Melbourne’s outskirts and DMDU provided a rare opportunity to see him. And it provided a showcase for young talent from places like JXT and Fox’s Relentless School of Pro Wrestling, allowing us to see very young versions of Big Dude Energy. This was all really exciting, and as a fan you felt like you were on the cusp of discovering something truly different, featuring a bunch of wrestlers you hadn’t seen before.
If I were to speak specifically about one guy, I also think DMDU’s role in allowing Edward Dusk to flesh out his character and become a main event guy is now being realised in places like MCW and WrestleRampage. It’s funny watching people now become a fan of “MCW-Sacrament Dusk”, because DMDU fans have been watching that character for two years.
The second legacy though is a very negative one. DMDU formed during the pandemic, in the wake of the Speaking Out scandal that tore apart independent wrestling. DMDU launched with a strong statement of values that promised safe and inclusive spaces and an environment based on respect.
Initially? That was one of the draws of DMDU. It was so diverse. It was so punk rock. It was the queers and punks and the misfits all coming together for this amazing spectacle of deathmatch pro wrestling. It was the one company that made me feel as though they wanted me there, they cared that I was there, and that environment had been created for me and all the weird, queer misfits like me. There was a sense of belonging in those early DMDU shows that I’ve never experienced at a wrestling show.
Those statements though, became an albatross around the neck of DMDU as it constantly failed to live up to them. There was no transparency when key staff left. The company lied to its fans around the repayment of crowdfunding support. They allegedly continued to use a talent long after becoming aware of accusations made against him by a former partner. They used talent in an unsafe manner. Talent started using weak, lame gendered language in promos where DMDU had always wanted us to believe that gender wasn’t a factor in the company.
Ultimately, I believe that’s what led to the downfall of the company. People will put up with cancellations and venue changes. They probably won’t notice management changes. They’ll put up with their favourite wrestler leaving.
But when you claim to appeal to people’s deepest values and you let them down? You lose them – your most dedicated fans will leave because you appealed to something deeper than wrestling fandom, and you let them down.
It’s fair to report that, over the last 2 weeks since I started writing this article, some supporters have indicated that DMDU has refunded their donations. It’s unknown how many have been repaid or how they’ve been prioritised, as I have heard from people who have been refunded and people who haven’t – but it can only be a positive for Melbourne wrestling as a whole that DMDU’s crowdfunding experience hopefully won’t leave a lasting negative impact on those individuals.
I think there are a hell of a lot of learnings from the experience, and I wonder whether we as fans have a greater responsibility to learn about the companies we support – but fundamentally, no wrestling company in a scene as small as Melbourne’s should be holding its hand out to fans for money to fund its special projects or goals. If you want to do these things, you need to earn it through ticket and merch sales, and through sales of your stream – because whether or not it was true, the prevailing opinion online as DMDU constantly failed to meet deadlines became that this was a carny cash-grab for the benefit of DMDU’s promoters.
I believe there is room for a deathmatch company in Melbourne. I think there’s room for more “intergender” wrestling, and we’re seeing that in MCW – to me that’s an enormous positive, as it provides more opportunities for the enormously talented women we have in Australia.
Where I believe DMDU has ultimately become a failed project though, comes back to that notion of appealing to people’s values before failing them, and that’s where there’s a risk to the broader scene as a whole. They didn’t live their values, and they stopped living the values of their most dedicated and committed fans.
I’ll be sad if DMDU’s failures cease or delay any further development of “intergender wrestling” in Melbourne. I’ll be super disappointed if potential promoters look at DMDU and decide that deathmatch isn’t a significant niche in Melbourne. I really hope that isn’t the case.
I fear it’s an uphill battle though, because when I question whether, on balance, DMDU was good for Melbourne wrestling, I don’t know the answer. But I know that a lot of people left various shows with sour tastes in their mouths, and I know a lot of donors feel taken advantage of.