The most important thing one can say about Absolute Intense Wrestling is they arrived in 2012. From a mediocre company in Cleveland to a national entity that showcases the best in independent wrestling. Cleveland may not be the greatest wrestling city in the world, but it has a wonderful collection of young wrestlers and are centrally located to the point where wrestlers from the Midwest and Northeast can converge in one iconic building.
Who would have thought a broken nose and broken leg would lead to two of the most memorable matches in the promotion’s history? Allysin Kay suffered a broken nose in the first of what became a trilogy against Mia Yim. This was the match which truly brought AIW into the forefront. Women bleeding in wrestling is relatively unexplored territory, and this was quite the sight. Then there was poor Uhaa Nation, who broke his leg in a DG USA match just a week before a scheduled 30 minute Iron Man match with AR Fox. While the Nation injury was unfortunate, ACH took the ball and dunked it. Moreso than any other promotion except and perhaps because of their relationship with Beyond Wrestling, AIW let the 30 minute stipulation stand. ACH and AR Fox had an unbelievable contest which got attention for both men. It was a modern wrestling match in every sense of the word given the moves they were doing and the speed in which they were doing it.
The promotion featured a number of mainstream independent stars but also began to use wrestlers like Ethan Page and Josh Alexander. They are at the cutting edge of how to use new talent and allowing them to have the best possible matches no matter what position there are on the card. Similar to PWG and AAW, AIW was able to deliver the type of dream matches between contracted wrestlers from different companies, one of which led to what I believe is AIW’s best pure wrestling match of the year.
For all the positive aspects of AIW, some of their main angles did not quite meet expectations. The situation with Shima Xion and TNA couldn’t really be helped, but having the Absolute championship not be lost in the ring was frustrating. At least it gave additional meaning to the JT Lightning tournament since Eric Ryan was able to capitalize on a year long winning streak and win the title in the finals over BJ Whitmer and ACH. The ending of the battle with Flexor industries transitioning into the Nixon angle was a bit confusing for me and I’m pretty sure a number of other fans. I’ll talk more about this issue throughout, but even as AIW experienced a number of highs, they also were not able to deliver a home run angle.
MVP and Breakout of the Year: ACH
This was a really tough choice for me given the amount of respect I also have for Eric Ryan and the fact that he ended 2012 a two time Absolute Champion. Ultimately, I feel ACH got more chances to showcase his strengths as a wrestler throughout the year. Two 30 minute Iron Man matches, four tournament contests in two days, and a main event with Tim Donst certainly makes a huge difference. This is a guy who was barely known to AIW audiences at the beginning of the year. Although he made sporadic appearances for some major indies in 2010 and 2011, the first match with AR Fox was one of his first breakout matches (His first match against AR Fox in Beyond Wrestling’s Tournament of Tomorrow is arguably his first). This is a match that cannot be talked about enough given what it did for both wrestler, but particularly ACH. Despite being injured for a good portion of the JT Lightning Tournament, he toughed it out and wrestled excellently throughout. Obviously, he received a number of opportunities, but he really took advantage and stepped up. For someone so young, ACH showed incredible poise.
Tag Team of the Year: Irish Airborne
It’s odd to me that Irish Airborne wins two of these awards without holding the actual tag team titles for the majority of the year. The AIW tag team belts unfortunately turned into a hot potato toward the end of the year with three switches in four months. No one team was getting a real chance. Perhaps worst of all was having the Batiri lose the belts before an event called “End of the World.” In theory, giving Gregory Iron and Veda Scott the belts is a really creative idea, but they cannot meet the high standards set by other teams in this divsion. Their act and chemistry is just starting to form and giving them the titles felt too soon. Unlike AAW and Ring of Honor, AIW has an established tag team division with a number of teams who could be considered the best. IA were the most consistent and had solid matches against the Briscoes, Future Shock, and Youthaniza. I hope IA can get a longer with the titles based on their ability to have these great performances.
Promo of the Year: Duke Schork
A lot of things can be said about the Nixon angle, good and bad. If nothing else, Eric Ryan, Bobby Beverly, Rickey Shane Page, or and Duke have a far greater purpose as the bitter local wrestlers who are unhappy their careers never went further. Unfortunately, in a year where every company seemingly was doing some sort of invasion or takeover angle, Nixon did not gain the level of traction it might have in another year or era. This isn’t to say anyone’s performance is bad per se. In fact, there have been some standout promos from the Duke. He’s really an underrated promo and has been able to convey the emotion of this angle better than anyone. Duke’s “Nixon Tape” was by the far the best because it gave some reason for the angle. He explained himself well; however, I think the logic of the angle is flawed from conception. More on that later. His other standout promo came at Absolution after a really underrated match with Jock Sampson, where he gave up his spot and laid the ground work for Nixon.
Honorable Mention: Eric Ryan
I feel bad not giving MVP to Eric Ryan and in some ways justifying why the Nixon angle isn’t as far removed from what’s actually happening. Nonetheless, Ryan deserves a lot of credit for stepping up his game and having quality matches all year long. I thought him going out first in the main event at Absolution was a terrible decision given the year he had and his JLIT tournament victory. Having him lose the belt after only a month made a lot of that feel irrelevant. That’s why I was genuinely happy to see him regain the title at End of the World. He’s worked a ton on his in-ring work and is quite the unheralded talker as well. I’m pleased Ryan is getting increased attention in AIW, but I really want to see him in other places and prove himself.
Wrestler to Watch in 2013: Ethan Page and Josh Alexander
AIW has two huge potential stars that could easily be signed by WWE without going into the WWN Universe or Ring of Honor. Ethan Page and Josh Alexander have the look of future nationally televised stars, but they can also go in the ring and have charisma to them. Seleziya Sparx adds a lot to Page since he gets to look like a jerk heel, but Page is also clearly in a dominant position as opposed to subservient to a woman. The fact that he ended the year on a winning streak bolds well for him. A championship has to be in his future based on his skill level. Alexander might have an even higher ceiling based on his look, and he may also be in line for championships. Anyway you look at it, AIW has two potential Canadian stars. Because they’re so underexposed to American audiences, it’s to AIW’s benefit to really use them and allow them opportunities to showcase their abilities.
Match (es) of the Year: Johnny Gargano vs.Michael Elgin (Hell on Earth 8)(November 23, 2012), ACH vs. AR Fox (Straight Oughta Compton)(April 6, 2012)
This is the only company I’m breaking the rule about one match of the year. From an in-ring perspective, I honestly believe Gargano and Elgin out together the best actual match if only viewing things through the lens of a star rating. With El Generico off to WWE land, these two are legitimate contenders for best wrestlers on the independent scene. Outstanding work from both men and they even managed to wake up the notoriously sleepy Cleveland crowd up from their slumber toward the end of the match.
On the other hand, ACH and Fox had their famous Iron Man match, a contest I’ve talked about so often that to not include the match on my list would be a disservice to what AIW became in 2012.
In the interest of saving time, I’m not going to post match reviews for the matches. I would strongly recommend checking out both shows regardless for two fairly significant matches out of AIW this year. If you’re interested in snowflakes, I’d give Gargano vs. Elgin **** and ACH vs. AR Fox ***3/4
Feud of the Year: Allysin Kay and Mia Yim
If for no other reason than the main feuds didn’t catch my eye, these two women made history in their trilogy of matches. Their first contest, which I’ve talked about extensively, featured a broken nose and a Yim victory. Their second match at Girl’s Night Out 6 led to Kay becoming the AIW woman’s champion, the first single’s title of her career. There are a lot of directions AIW could have gone in concluding the matter, but they crafted a pink mesh structure and allowed the women to have a rare women’s cage match. Kay won with a submission hold on Yim while both women were on top of the cage. It was an incredible visual and again had people buzzing about AIW. This wasn’t a feud that produced a four star match but was born out of a shoot broken nose. Smartly, the Cleveland promotion took advantage and made this into something significant that allowed both Kay and Yim to raise their stock.
Show of the Year: Straight Outta Compton
This is the show AIW officially arrived. I’ve talked extensively about the 30 minute Iron Man match already, but there was an epic street fight in the main event as well as Flexor Industries battled Team AIW. John Thorne and Rickey Shane Page continued their feud by battling two very different opponents. Hailey Hatred and Thorne stole the show in a very memorable brawl while Page put together a solid match of his own against Drake Younger. Finally, Youthaniza and Irish Airborne also had an action-packed tag team match as as Matt Cross and Josh Prohibition successfully defended their belts. A really great show that serves as a starting point for anyone who wants to become an AIW fan.
Three Positives of AIW in 2012:
No promotion has more balls to try new things than the folks who run AIW. The product isn’t always perfect, but John Thorne and Chandler Biggins seem genuinely interested in making their product the best it can possibly be regardless of cost to themselves. I’d imagine this isn’t totally the case, but I appreciate the effort. They’ve brought in top talent from the Midwest, Northeast, and even Canada. If nothing else, AIW is extremely unpredictable and won’t hesitate to change things up if they get bored.
The funny part about AIW and their ability to bring top talent from across the country is there are a lot of quality wrestlers from the area. Think about it. Josh Prohibition, Matt Cross, Eric Ryan, Bobby Beverly, Rickey Shane Page, Gregory Iron, and Johnny Gargano are all within Cleveland or at least a short driving distance away. While a number of promotions are bringing core roster members from multiple states and every which way on a compass, AIW has a solid roster within its own community. This is an incredible advantage, and I think what gives AIW its distinct feel. This is the promotion that treats Gargano as one of the best in the worldworld (better than DG USA), allows Iron to showcase himself in the best possible way as an entitled hero, and allows Page/Beverly/Ryan some amount of leeway to get themselves as a bitter group of heels. Whether the Nixon angle is successful or not is a separate argument.
I can’t say I’ve been a fan of all the Girl’s Night Out shows, but it’s nice that AIW is willing to change up their own format and run all women’s shows. I almost wish we could see doubleheaders come from running both men and women’s shows on the same night (probably tough given cost and length of shows), but AIW has proven to be slightly ahead of the curve in running all women’s shows. Companies like WSU and Shine are only now starting to take off. Girl’s Night Out is a solid revenue source when it comes to DVDs and because none of the girls are signed to Ring of Honor or WWN contracts yet, AIW can run its very first iPPV on March 1 as part of Smart Mark Video. I doubt a potential JLIT or Absolution will be able to make the cut, but at least AIW will have some options moving forward and use the GNO shows in specific ways.
Three Negatives of AIW in 2012:
For me , there were two three issues I had with AIW on a consistent basis, which in some ways makes this the easiest “negative” list to put together. First, the Cleveland crowds have proven to be a mixed bag at best. I firmly believe they’ve taken a few really amazing matches down a peg with their lack of heat and seeming apathy toward what’s going in a ring. I saw this first hand last May and wish the fans could stop only seeing high spots or blood as the only parts of the show where they should be generating noise from their diaphragm.
I’ve talked about my issues with the tag team division, so I don’t need to elaborate much more. If nothing else, AIW’s steps toward fixing their problems with the division are actually the easiest based on their talent.
Let’s talk about the main angle, moreso Nixon than Flexor Industries since that’s what’s hip and cool these days. My problem isn’t with Page, Ryan, Beverly, or Duke specifically. Given the roles, I think they’re doing the best possible job. I have respect for them as wrestlers and from a shoot standpoint, I see why they’re frustrated about a lack of opportunity. However, as a pure wrestling fan, why should I care either way? These are local wrestlers who are obviously trying to make their way. Why should I care either way about whether they’re being booked by Ring of Honor or Gabe Sapolsky? They’ve related the angle to AIW by saying the promoters haven’t allowed them to shine nearly as much as other wrestlers, but I definitely wonder how fans are supposed to identify with either side of the feud. This angle speaks to the seedy underbelly of wrestling politics, and as compelling as it can be for me, guy who follows multiple companies and wrestlers very closely, I think fans need something more tangible to identify with. Plus, Nixon is at a distinct disadvantage because of Aces and 8’s, Gekido, Shield, We Are Coming, and SCUM. All of these groups want to denigrate, take over, or invade the respective promotion. I’d love to see in 2013 by all promotions to please stop running whatever version of this angle. Specifically for AIW, Nixon not connecting with their crowd may be what’s holding them back from being the top independent wrestling promotion.
Three Bold Predictions for 2012:
ACH will either win Gauntlet for the Gold or JLIT to earn a title shot at Absolution and go onto win the Absolute title from Eric Ryan.
Ethan Page will win the Intense Title from BJ Whitmer early in the year.
The Sex Bo-Bombs make a huge return to AIW and win the titles sometime in the second half of 2013.
Jerome Cusson has been a professional wrestling fan since late 1994. Having started out as a fan of WWF, he eventually expanded his horizons into WCW and ECW. After the unfortunate deaths of these two companies, Jerome's interest in wrestling nearly came to an end before he discovered independent wrestling. Let the love/hate relationship with wrestling continue.
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