Featured image by John Morrissey

For better or for worse, David Starr feels the most artistic freedom wrestling in OTT. At the peak of this, he’s able to help craft long-term, multilayered storylines that lend gravitas and emotional weight to his wrestling as he did with Jordan Devlin and WALTER through most of 2019. At its worst, Starr gets a tad overindulgent–muddying the waters of the ring work and overthinking things that should be simpler than they are. It’s when he’s able to find a perfect balance between his artistic ambitions and proper restraint that Starr shines brightest.

And that’s what we have here.

David Starr does not have a long history with LJ Cleary. In fact, up until the ring announcements for this match, this wasn’t even scheduled to be for the OTT World Championship. This forces Starr to create tension within the action as opposed to leaning too hard on established character dynamics. And Starr achieves this with such a simple in-ring choice: being a bully.

Ever since he stepped on the WWE UK Championship in 2019, Starr has been walking–at times stumbling–the fine line between babyface and heel in OTT. A lot of this, by Starr’s own admission, is due to the company’s inability to fully gauge where the Irish fans’ loyalties lie when it comes to Starr. And while for the most part, Starr remains a beloved icon of the OTT roster, there are still vocal pockets of the local crowd that boo him strong enough that OTT has yet to commit one way or the other when it comes to David Starr’s morality. While this does lead to a lot of questions about the company’s kayfabe philosophies, it does lend Starr a lot of flexibility in the ring as he can switch between face/heel lines depending on his opponent.

In the case of the extremely popular LJ Cleary, one third of OTT’s most over stable More Than Hype, Starr fits perfectly as an overconfident bully of a champion. The match opens on a strong note with Cleary shoving Starr back into the corner with an aggressive lock up, showing that he intends to make the most of his sudden opportunity for the title. Starr seems indignant but also amused at the young man’s moxie. He responds by roughing up Cleary on the mat, only to find that given the right openings, Cleary can hold his own.

Finding that Cleary has a little more in him than expected, Starr turns to strikes with some stiff chops. He uses the strength advantage to get Cleary back on the mat to work over his leg. It’s pretty good leg work including a rather snug spinning toe hold and Starr’s reverse Muta Lock variant. Cleary, for his part, does a lot to sell the damage and come across as a sympathetic babyface. He fights well from underneath, going for Starr’s midsection with headbutts despite being easily cut off. I do like that Starr takes the time to sell Cleary’s almost-comebacks once he gets Cleary back down on the mat though.

There’s a few of Starr’s trademark storyline moments in the match though. In this match, it centers around the ring crew and Starr’s relationship with them as a figure. To further this, the ring crew catches Starr on a missed dive, setting him down on the floor safely. When Cleary follows up with a dive of his own, Starr shoves the ring crew out of the way to spare them the impact. It was a quick enough that it didn’t bother me too much and I’m interested enough to see where it will go.

This all leads into a fun Cleary comeback where he (mostly) gets to sell the injured leg Starr spent all match on. This builds to multiple cut offs and tense points as Cleary tries to get the win and Starr gets just a little too close to defeat for comfort. It’s a wonderful match that ends just before things go into overkill and everything built organically to that point. Just wonderful match layout and structuring with a fantastic David Starr performance as he led Cleary to an amazing championship match.

The post-match continues to ask questions of Starr’s character. Cleary accuses Starr of being the egomaniac user that he was portrayed as in early 2019 while Starr’s promo paints him much closer to the babyface revolutionary that the fans seemed to want from him towards the end of the year. That Starr chooses to spare Cleary a post-match beating (the first of his challengers to earn this mercy) might point to Starr being a little closer to babyface than he was at the end of 2019. Only time will tell on that front.

All in all, this is exactly what I wanted from a David Starr match. His expressiveness, his wonderful looking offense, and just enough vulnerability to match the moment and give fans just enough hope to keep biting. If he keeps it up long enough, it’ll be another Wrestler of the Year win in the bag.


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