We're stepping outside of the United States today and looking to a wonderful wrestler who has had an underdog story brewing for years: Michelangelo.
Michelangelo is the current Undisputed ZMAK Champion and International Champion in ZMAK Wrestling, which raises the question: what is ZMAK? Today we're going to be looking at the company just as much as the wrestler, and get to know the Greek pro wrestling scene. Before we go any further, I have a couple of disclaimers. Firstly, I don't speak Greek. I did my best to translate match descriptions and anything else I could find, but it's certainly possible something has been lost in translation, and if you find a mistake please let me know. Secondly, I did my best with names. Cagematch will have names localized differently than ZMAK match descriptions which might be different than the actual entrance video. As a rule of thumb, I went with the spelling on their entrance video, especially with Michelangelo, which Cagematch lists as Micheal Angelos. Finally, I have to give credit to Wrestlemap for bringing ZMAK and Michelangelo to my attention in his article on the company. They do great work covering wrestling in countries you don't usually hear about, like Nepal
Before we get into ZMAK, I want to talk about why I was drawn to the company. There's a story in my family that goes like this: My Great Great Grandfather was traveling with his parents from Greece as a baby. His parents knew they would be too poor in this new country to give him the life they wanted, and on the boat to Ellis Island they met a couple they could trust who couldn't have kids of their own. They gave my Great Great Grandfather to them, who raised him well in a happy life. As he grew up though, no one knew who his birth parents were. That information was lost to time, and in the 1990's someone in my family finally found his original Greek last name: Lakos. I was born soon after, and so I was given this, my lost family, as my middle name. Now how much of that story is true I'll never know, but it's a part of me and who I am. As such, growing up I loved stories of Greek mythology, and when I saw ZMAK I saw a chance to see a new pantheon of Greek heroes. I mean for Pete's sake Achilles, Hermes, Apollo and Spartacus are all here! I started looking at ZMAK out of curiousity, and I fell in love.
ZMAK wrestling started in 2016, and in only five years have built a fairly solid legacy. Staples of the company include the annual Immortals Tournament, the Golden Ticket Rumble match, their home arena the ZMAKDome, and the boss: Kris Ka$$. Kris Ka$$ is absolutely nuts and I love it. He claims to be an associate of Vince McMahon and Donald Trump, and is never without his cowboy hat; that tells you everything you need to know about him. Over the years he has done everything he could to keep Michelangelo from being champion. The cat and mouse game between the two has been a big draw for the company and will be involved in many of the matches on this list. Before going any further I want to address my biggest problem with ZMAK: the edits. They do a lot of fade cuts between shots that skip over rest holds or people getting into position. At first it was super weird, but in most matches it's fine. You get used to it pretty quick, but in a couple matches it's worse so I will point that out.
Michelangelo made his debut back at ZMAK...My Beach 2017 beating The Giant. From there he was immediately entered in the first Immortals Tournament. He would end up facing Paris the Samurai in the finals, who only got there thanks to Kris Ka$$. As he won the tournament, he made an enemy in the boss which would haunt the rest of his ZMAK career. He would get title matches and other big fights but in the second round of the 2018 Immortals Tournament he would run into two wrestlers who would change his life: Jimmy Hashtag and Spyros Louis. Spyros interfered and cost Michelangelo the match while Hashtag would go on to be the runner up of the tournament. The feud between Hashtag and Michelangelo got serious, culminating in a hair vs hair match.
Fast forward to 2019 and Michelangelo would win the first ever prison break match earning a shot at the ZMAK Championship, then held by none other than Louis. That title match would have an added wrinkle in the form of special guest referee Jimmy Hashtag. Against the odds, Michelangelo won the belt. Out came current Golden Ticket holder Kris Ka$$(told you he liked Vince) but Michelangelo escaped. From this moment the feud would grow even more intense as literally every obstacle was put in his way. He would lose the belt in Florida, then lose the rematch in a triple threat without being pinned. WHen he did win the championship back Ka$$ let Elias Sinas take the Golden Ticket and cash in. Once again, Michelangelo was back at the bottom. He would have to beat his friend Hermes just to enter a gauntlet match to get a shot, and then had to wager his career. Finally, after years, Michelangelo stood tall as a double champion, and that brings us to now. He still has both belts, Hermes has the Golden Ticket, and monthly shows resume in September. Anything can happen with this company, and specifically with Michelangelo.
If there's one thing to take away from this article, I hope it's that Michelangelo has been stealing the show and winning the hearts of people for years now, and next time we have a conversation about the LGBTQ+ community in wrestling, that his name is right there where it belongs. He has been unabashedly himself for years, and has won everyone's love and respect, not to mention the Championships, being who he is. He's a great wrestler fullstop, but as a pansexual man with Greek ancestry(at least a little) myself, he's my hero.
#10: Michelangelo vs Jimmy Hashtag
This is the first of two Jimmy Hashtag vs Michelangelo singles matches on this list, because I wanted to show just how far back this feud goes. They've been friends, rivals, and everything in between. This was the first time they met in the ring outside of maybe a rumble. Hashtag had lost in the second round of the 2017 Immortals Tournament, and now here he was again. This time though, to get past the second round he would have to beat the 2017 winner.
This match isn't exactly mind blowing, but it's the spark of one of the best feuds in ZMAK history. One of my favorite spots, and I think a reason for this getting so intense, is when Hashtag goes out of the ring and Michelangelo holds the ropes for him playfully to get back in. After that, Hashtag starts to get more innovative and brutal in his offense. Michelangelo still puts on quite the show here, including a gorgeous springboard corkscrew. It's actually due to really creative interference that Hashtag pulls out the win, and again, kicks off an absolutely fantastic feud.
#9: Michelangelo vs Xasapis
As mentioned in the triple threat, Michelangelo wasn't pinned. That earned him this match, and wow he plays the underdog babyface well. When Xasapis starts just throwing him like a ragdoll it seems like the match might end after only a couple of minutes. Xasapis is just brutalizing him with cannonballs in the Tree of Woe, delayed suplexes, bridging German suplexes and anything else he can throw. The entire time though, Michelangelo doesn't give up.
After he slaps Xasapis in the face he finally starts to get some momentum, and the match begins to look like it could go either way. When Michelangelo dodges a leg drop on the apron and hits one of his own, you really starts to believe he might pull it out. Xasapis gets another strong streak, but it's still not enough. Ultimately, Michael-Angelo gets the feel good win, only for the belt to be taken from him minutes later by Elias Sinas. Once again, he has to start his quest to get back to the top, and that would be a journey.
#8:Deimos vs Michelangelo
This was a cool one to find. Michelangelo defending the title in Florida just a few months before lockdown. I want to see more of Michelangelo in the United States, and this match gives me hope. Outside of the unique situation, it's a really good match. Deimos is wonderful, and I still want us to get the rematch that never happened. Deimos is a beast in this match and really makes me wish his title run was longer. There is a great moment where he no-sells some chops from Michelangelo and the crowd pops big for it. Michelangelo is a more agile wrestler, and although Xasapis took the bigger wrestler role well, Deimos fit it perfectly.
I love the kind of wrestling when high flying attempts can be countered with just sheer strength. It always makes for a good clash of styles, and this match is a wonderful example. Deimos winning has shocking to everyone. Not just the people in the building, especially the kids blindly chanting USA, but the people back in Greece who had no clue Michelangelo would be coming home without the belt. It was a true surprise, and a truly crazy way to end the first American defense of the ZMAK Championship.
#7: Xasapis vs Michelangelo vs Spyros Louis
Xasapis wasn't supposed to be in this match, but he managed to pull out the win. This match is here because it's one of many steps on the road for Michelangelo to rise to the top. This match was supposed to see Deimos defend the title, but he had to vacate it due to injury. When Xasapis is revealed as the third fighter the crowd absolutely loses it, and that reaction doesn't need a translation. Despite this being Xasapis's night, Michelangelo still puts on a great show. His early match sequence with Spyros is a highlight for me showcasing his athletic style and speed.
This match also has a really cool spot where Xasapis has Spyros seated in the corner and Michelangelo in the tree of woe; when he rushes the corner they both dodge sending him into the buckles before Michelangelo drops his split kick on both of them. I really like that this match could have gone so many different directions: it didn't feel like Xasapis had to win as soon as he showed up, as both other wrestlers were former champions. What's important to note is that Spyros is the one to get pinned here, showing that Michelangelo deserves a shot, which he did get.
#6: Michelangelo vs Falakros Gurou vs Gedeon vs Kostikas vs Sina vs Phillippos FBI
This one was a cool one. In order to set up the next challenger for Spyros Louis's title, six of the best were put into the first ever prison break match. So it's basically an elimination chamber match, but with no cage. Two wrestlers start in the ring, with the other four handcuffed to the turnbuckles. What's cool about this is the chained wrestlers can interfere a lot easier, and as such the wrestlers in the ring need to be careful of where they go. Someone comes in after two minutes, and they reveal it with a graphic up on the screen instead of a spotlight. I actually really loved this match format as it felt like both an innovation and a cheaper way to do a fan favorite gimmick. The chamber structure is far too gargantuan for any company besides WWE to attempt, but this? This is doable.
My one format complaint is that two minutes might be too short. Michelangelo is the first wrestler unchained, and comes in like a firecracker. He hits some wonderful moves, including a moonsault onto three wrestlers in the ring, and possibly the slickest meteora I've ever seen. The pacing of the match is fairly similar to what you'd expect from a chamber match, but at a bit quicker speed.
You have wrestlers teaming up, breaking up, a new wrestler wrecking house, all that good stuff. They even poke fun at the breaking up a pinfall in an elimination match spot as someone does that, gets the elimination, and celebrates like they won. They turn around and immediately get punched, and I laughed out loud. Besides the really cool format, I genuinely just enjoyed this match as a big multi-person fight. Michelangelo ultimately gets the win, setting up his first title win.
#5: Michelangelo vs Spyros Louis
This was the big one. Finally, after years of struggling, Michelangelo got the title. With Jimmy Hashtag as special guest referee it was not going to be easy for Michelangelo to beat Louis. Louis was the one who cost Michelangelo his first match with Hashtag, and it seemed likely that Hashtag would do the same. The winner of the match would go on to face Deimos, and so the stakes were high. This one really has some of the most power moves of any Michelangelo match.
At first I was a little let down by how short the match would be when I saw the length, but that's because thirty minutes of this would have murdered Spyros. Michelangelo is just hitting big move after big move, and even though Spyros does get some offense in, it truly was Michelangelo's night. Michelangelo hits possibly my favorite of his hair whips in this match, and Spyros sells it beautifully. The biggest thing keeping this match low is the editing. I made the point at the beginning of the article that ZMAK does some weird editing that cuts out some rest holds, and I've been judging matches to that standard. That being said, the editing in this match is noticeably worse and some big spots end up looking awful.
It's not at the bottom though, because the storytelling is amazing. Louis curb stomps Michelangelo onto the title, and Hashtag doesn't count the pin because he sees the belt laying next to Michelangelo's head and isn't an idiot. Louis may have cost Michelangelo against Hashtag, but Hashtag wasn't going to do the same for him. Ka$$ tries to cash in the golden ticket afterwards, but Hashtag holds off Power and Money long enough for Michelangelo to climb the balcony and run.
#4: Michelangelo vs Jimmy Hashtag
Michelangelo being in a hair vs hair match makes so much sense. I mean why wouldn't they do this match? Michelangelo just starts beating the crap out of Hashtag right off the bell, and that intensity stays for the whole match. This match is fast and brutal: easily the most intense match between the two. There are some great moves in this match, like when Hashtag hits what I can only describe as a stunner to Michelangelo's ankle. It's a clever match, and although there is more editing that I'd like, the match still works.
They do a great spot at the end where Michelangelo gets pinned with his foot on the rope, and the referee actually restarts the match. It's what we all wish would happen all the time, and it's so cathartic. Honestly ZMAK always feels cathartic with how they handle interference spots. It's only after the false finish that Michelangelo uses the hair whip, and hits one last big move for the win. This is a short but very enjoyable match that sums up a lot of things I love about ZMAK.
#3: Michelangelo vs Elias Sinas vs Mr. Peris
This is the newest match on the list, and the one that changes everything. I'm so glad that ZMAK is back, but if this had been the end, what a way to go out. Power and Money abandons Kris Kas$$, Michelangelo doesn't have to retire, and he becomes a double champion after everything he's been through. It's the kind of match that just feels so cathartic, like everything has been building to this. I can't help but compare this match to the Wrestlemania 30 main event, with Michelangelo as Daniel Bryan.
Although technically it's a triple threat, it seems clear that Sinas and Peris are under orders to make sure Michelangelo doesn't win. After three and a half years from when Michelangelo crossed Power and Money by winning the Immortals Tournament, Michelangelo is finally rid of Kris Ka$$, and the story feels complete. While I clearly love the story here, the match itself is of equal quality. You have great tag moves in the beginning handicap match section, and as Peris and Sinas turn on each other it becomes a great triple threat. All your favorite triple threat spots are here too: breaking up a pin, taking down both wrestlers and trying to pin them back to back, making and breaking alliances.
It's all here, and although Sinas and Peris are both good wrestlers, their comedy spots as Ka$$'s lackies are great(even though I have no idea what they're saying.) The ending of this match is spectacular, as Michelangelo hits his finisher twice, once on each opponent, then pins them both to win both titles. It's a truly special moment and a great end to a great match.
#2: Michelangelo vs Paris
I'd say this is the earliest great Michelangelo match, and it's a doozy. It's the finals of the first ever Immortal Tournament, and it's down to Paris the Samurai and Michelangelo. I want to point out that Paris is joined by Kris Ka$$, and so the war between Michelangelo and Power and Money has been waging for years. This match is a great example not just of Michelangelo but of ZMAK as a whole. It was probably the biggest match in the company up to that point, and they couldn't have picked two better finalists.
These two know they are not just representing themselves, but Greek wrestling as a whole. As with many great Michelangelo matches, we have some high flying and some interesting uses of his hair by both him and his opponent. At one point early on Paris locks him in the ropes; he uses his hair to give some extra whiplash to his strikes, and I winced. Paris works some really good holds in this match, and does his best to keep Michelangelo grounded. This match could really go either way as it wears on. The coolest part of the match comes when Paris ties Michelangelo's hair into the guard rail, and to avoid being counted out he brings the whole guard rail in the ring with him. Michelangelo ultimately gets the win, and it's just the first big win of many for the star.
#1: Michelangelo vs Play Boy vs Patir Loannis vs Jimmy Hashtag vs Achilleas Sabbath vs Phillippos FBI
Power and Money would do anything to stop Michelangelo from regaining the championship, and in this case that meant throwing five of the top wrestlers in ZMAK in his way. The first obstacle in his way is a name we'll see a lot today, Jimmy Hashtag. This opening bit is a wonderful mini-match. I feel like WWE would have saved Hashtag for the end: building up to the name with the most history. I really like that they front loaded him though, showing that Power and Money are doing anything to stop him. Hashtag goes down after only a couple minutes, and Achilleas comes out next. I want to take this chance to talk about the structure of the ZMAKDome, since we see a bunch of people entering the arena. The entrance is up on the balcony, and then people come down the steps. It makes for a really cool visual as Michelangelo is looking up to the balcony to see who comes next.
Sabbath is the first to start actually wearing down Michelangelo, and that's an important part of a gauntlet match. Michelangelo gets a nasty octopus stretch wrenched in to tap out Sabbath, but Sabbath then busts out a kendo stick. This to me is a really cool moment in the match, as Loannis is aligned with Power and Money, but is wanting a fair fight. He doesn't want to beat Michelangelo because of the kendo stick, but when Michelangelo slaps him, it's on.
Even of all the ZMAK I've been consuming, this was the first time I saw Loannis, and I liked what I saw. The end of this section is fantastic, as the octopus stretch doesn't work, so Michelangelo puts on a ponytail assisted armbar. Loannis shakes Michelangelo's hand and walks out. F.B.I is out next, and at this point, Michelangelo is exhausted. Surprisingly, F.B.I. helps Michelangelo to his feet, and they actually start the match on even footing. F.B.I. taunts some of the wrestlers in the crowd and gets jumped, and that's not how I was expecting this segment to end, but Michelangelo won with a roll up.
Finally Playboy comes out and for some reason uses the Kingdom Hearts heartless symbol in his entrance? That has literally no bearing on this match, but I had to mention it. At this point Michelangelo has run through four opponents and has to be exhausted. Power and Money are all up on the balcony watching, and I just really love the feel that gives to the match. Playboy hits an incredibly looking slam that I actually thought would end the match, but Michelangelo just won't give up. He busts out the hair whip and I love the restraint shown with that move. He used the hair to assist a submission earlier, but saved the whip for the fifth opponent. The last few seconds of the match are so pulse-pounding that I don't want to spoil it. Just watch the match, and follow along with the best underdog story in years.
So there you have it: Michelangelo. A tremendous wrestler who has been involved in a tremendous story years in the making. I hope this encourages you to watch not just more of his work, but more of ZMAK.