Braden Charron is now in his sixth month at Thunder's Arena. The fit couldn't be better for him and the Florida-based promotion: Braden sports brawn to match that of the Arena's best-built talent, knows exactly what fans are looking for, and performs with equal ease as babyface or heel. Brad Barnes, in his Arena debut in Mat Wars 34, looks like he could be Braden's kid brother, with matching military buzz cut and hard, well-defined chest, shoulders, arms, and thighs. The similarity between them is both unmistakable and irresistible to me.
Despite online stats giving Brad almost a 30-pound advantage, it's Braden who appears the heavier and brawnier. He reclines next to Brad, resting on one elbow like a Playgirl foldout, as the new guy performs a set of crisp, textbook pushups. With quiet confidence, he teases the recruit, scorning Brad's pink-spotted "undies" and his pushups (for "little guys," Braden claims). "Let's stand up and start doing some real stuff," he urges.
The recruit takes charge early with a crushing side headlock designed to make Braden wear himself out in trying to escape from it. Brad's grip is near inescapable, and Braden huffs and flushes from the strain. The beautifully proportioned newcomer is supremely confident in his combat skills. But he seems somewhat less confident in his performance skills in front of a camera, looking to one side now and then as if seeking direction, but camera-shyness dwindles as the action heats up. Braden at last powers free of the headlock, heaves Brad roughly up on one shoulder, and drops him to the mat, straddling his waist and clawing the rookie's pecs. With a few slugs to the chest for punctuation, Braden stands, obviously expecting his opponent to stay put.
But Brad is quick to his feet and traps Braden in a crushing chest-to-chest bear hug. Then, having all but snapped the man's spine, he casts Braden aside. Braden looks half-defeated already, shaking his head in amazement that he has so disastrously underestimated his opponent. After a second, equally prolonged bear hug, Braden is moaning on the mat and gasping for air. Brad dishes up more mat punishment and then finishes the cocky bodybuilder with a camel clutch.
Round 2 finds Braden determined not to be taken again. He seizes Brad in a full nelson, showing off the recruit's assets, namely his Michelangelesque torso, while at the same time testing its durability. Then, brimming again with over-confidence, he grips Brad between his powerhouse thighs, hoping to crush the newby to submission. But Brad has other plans. He nabs Braden in a headscissors reversal. The more Braden thrashes and writhes, the tighter Brad's thighs clamp his skull. At one point during the ordeal, we get a perplexing tight closeup of handsome Brad staring into the camera lens, as he smothers Braden under him. I say perplexing because it's hard to tell whether the shot asks us to share in Brad's moment of dominance or warns us never to cross this guy.
Both rounds together run 23 minutes, about normal for Arena releases. If, like me, you enjoy tight, prolonged body contact, you will find plenty to love here. The action is intense and strenuous throughout, and the bodies, almost perpetually locked together, are breathtaking. I should warn you, though, that Mat Wars 34 ends abruptly and anticlimactically. After Round 2, we get a title card promising to show us the rest of the match (presumably a third round) in a future release. Ordinarily, I might not have minded a two-round match, especially when, as here, each round is satisfying in and of itself, yet the chemistry between these two wrestlers is hot enough that I will, undoubtedly, want the sequel (well, apparently not so much a sequel or a rematch as the conclusion to the DVD I already bought), plus anything else Brad and Braden do next, together or against other wrestlers. I can't say for sure what motivated Thunder's to abort this match in this way. Aesthetically it doesn't work, but perhaps the motive is money--charge full price for reduced portions. Still, like a junkie I might, this once, shell out another $35 for more of this.