Boy do I love me some tournaments. Every year I get excited when a big independent wrestling tournament comes around. Although the TPI is back this year, AIW filled the void it left and presented it’s third installment of a “TPI style tournament” with the 2013 JT Lightning Invitational Tournament.
AIW decided to change things up with this year’s tournament by incorporating women into the mix. The three intergender matches in the first round all had differentstories. Kimber Lee opened the show with Bobby Beverly and got to show that she was just as tough as the former Intense Division champion. When Bobby would chop her, she would chop right back. When he gave her a bicycle kick, she would respond with a suplex on the floor. Beverly had no problem beating the snot out of Lee and Lee took it all in stride. She ended up getting the win with a roll-up after ducking a superkick. Little did we know that this would just be the first big match of hers for the weekend. While Beverly had no problem giving Lee a beating, Marion Fontaine felt the exact opposite way when facing Veda Scott. Rather than harm her, he wanted to charm her into submission. While Scott would kick him in the head or try some submissions, Fontaine cleverly maneuvered around them and even got a pin attempt without one strike. Gregory Iron ran in to ruin his plans. Fontaine felt both extremely guilty and happy when he gave Scott a Liger Bomb and won the match. He played this match to perfection and provided some levity and humor to the tournament which is very much appreciated.
Ethan Page and Seleziya Sparx’s match however was the most heated of the three matches. For months Page had treated Sparx like garbage, and thanks to Addy Starr being removed from the tournament, Sparx was able to take her place in the hopes of getting revenge. The crowd LOVED this. It just goes to show that when you build to a match like this it ends up paying off. Page gave Sparx the opportunity to lay down and submit, but she slapped him in the face and went after him with some roll-ups early on. Page of course was his usual misogynistic self, but it didn’t stop Sparx from busting out a Death Valley Driver in the corner and a German suplex. Of course, Page ended up catching her with the Spinning Dwayne to move onto the second round but Sparx proved herself to be more than a worthy competitor. This was one of my favorite matches in the opening round. If nothing else, we saw that AIW in three matches this evening is not afraid to put women on the same level as men, which I think is a massive positive and shows progress for the entire landscape of indepedent wrestling.
Gary Jay and Davey Vega was more of a hard hitting affair than I expected. While Vega has had some excellent singles matches in lieu of Mat Fitchett’s injury, Jay had yet to have a stand out performance. This match just might be it. Having somebody who’s been a partner and who you have faced many times helps a lot. It also helps when you’re willing to do crazy things like take a powerbomb into the ring post. This had some of the usual crowd problems some AIW shows have been known to have, but the action itself was very good. Vega using Fitchett’s finishing move to win the match was a nice touch.
Tadarius Thomas and Louis Lyndon were the perfect companions for each other.This was exactly the type of match you would expect: clever strikes, athleticism, and some really fun sequences. Lyndon has really grown since the last JLIT as a singles competitor, honing his submission skills. That came through when he continuously kept trying for a Dragon sleeper just like he did with the armbar last year. Although Thomas was able to escape or work around it, Lyndon was able to catch him with it and get win. This was Thomas’ first match in the company and he performed to expectations. I’d certainly like to see him return and see these two have a rematch down the line.
Nobody thought “Nasty” Russ Myers had a chance against Chris Dickinson, and they were right. By and large Dickinson squashed the poor guy outside of him being able to sneak in his signature cannonball senton. I’m not saying Dickinson winning was the wrong move, but there was no hope for Myers going in and neither guy did much to change the crowds mind about that. It was pretty much Dickinson beating up the guy for eight minutes, so if that’s your deal, have I got the match for you.
Colin Delaney and Rickey Shane Page had the exact match they should have. Some brawling to start, some bigger spots, all to build up Delaney as the next challenger for the Absolute Championship. Delaney’s arm was hurt and Page made the most of that injury. When Delaney seemed to have things in the bag, Absolute champion Eric Ryan interfered and kicked his arm. While in pain, Page hit the Beach Break and got the pin, ensuring that at least one member of #NIXON would move on. It was a clever way for Delaney to suffer a loss without looking weak and to build his and Ryan’s match.
Whitmer and Prohibition wasn’t the crazy slugfest one might expect on paper. Part of that is likely due to the fact that Prohibition came into the match with a hurt knee. That knee came into play intermittently but was not the focal point of the bout. For the most part, the match was a little more methodical than what we had seen thus far. Whitmer got to win with the Peruvian Neck-Tie which has now been a staple in his arsenal since debuting for AIW two years ago. This also means that Whitmer will meet his rival Chris Dickinson in the second round. This match itself got the job done and accomplished what they were going for.
It’s no secret that Michael Elgin vs. Biff Busick was the match I was most looking forward to on the card. I said so on Twitter and I told Elgin in person the week before. Boy did it ever deliver. This could be considered Busick’s coming out party. He took everything Elgin dished out and kept coming back: an Air Raid crash on the ring apron and the floor, a minute long delayed vertical suplex, and head drops galore. Busick kept kicking out and delivered his own brand of punishment. Elgin’s surprise at Busick kicking out of his bigger moves translated very well to the crowd. It was a real treat to watch these guys beat each other up and may have been my favorite match of the entire first round. Busick has been having an awesome 2013 and is poised to break out at any moment. The norm lately is for Michael Elgin to have the best match on almost every show he has been on; have you noticed?
I was wondering what, if anything, could follow that match. Then Josh Alexander and ACH decided to do just that. On paper this looks like a mismatch, but I’ll be damned if ACH and Alexander held their own in the strength and speed departments to be a more even match than one would expect. The pace throughout was quick, they had the fans buying some crazy nearfalls (top rope Implant’s anyone?) and they were very hot by the end. ACH had some terrific matches with Michael Elgin and Jay Lethal in ROH, and I personally thought Alexander looked like a tougher battle for him. That to me says a lot about Alexander (who ended up getting the win, by the way) who is another guy that you need to keep your eyes if you’re not already. My hats are off to these two men for going after such a great a match and doing just as well.
Adam Cole and Tim Donst’s match was good but had a weird dynamic. When two Rudos go against each other, it seems one guy becomes the defacto good guy. That didn’t really happen. The already meandering crowd really didn’t seem to know how to react outside of chanting “suck his dick” to Donst in the early going. Cole also didn’t show as much charisma as he would in, say, PWG or CZW, but then again when the crowd isn’t giving you a lot, what can you expect? The wrestling was fine. Nothing you hadn’t seen before from either guy which honestly is still pretty darn good. Cole ended up getting the win with the Florida Key.
The main event saw two of JT Lightning’s students, Johnny Gargano and Matt Cross, in an excellent bout. This was a really competitive match and showcased the best of both guys. The Cleveland area isn’t necessarily talked about when it comes to great independent wrestling, but it’s matches like this to show that plenty of great talent can come from there. It was a greatest hits out of both men with some really fun counters, such as Cross avoiding the slingshot spear and going for a standing shooting star right after. Cross even got to look like a beast taking the Hurts Donut 4 times in the end before finally staying down. Gargano’s promo after the match over Cros as one of the best unsigned talents today. There was no more appropriate way to end the evening and both guys should feel good knowing they did justice to the tournament’s namesake.
Overall: Compared to the 2011 TPI and 2012 JLIT, this was the strongest and most diverse of the Night 1 shows. There were a lot of really unique and fun “dream” matches set up, and most everything either met expectations or over delivered. I definitely recommend checking this out. What about Night 2? Check back in on Thursday for that review.
Quick Results/Match Times/Star Ratings
1. Kimber Lee scored an upset victory over Bobby Beverly (with The Duke) by ducking a superkick and rolling him up for the pin at 11:26. **¾
2. Davey Vega defeated Gary Jay with Water For Elephants (a Falcon Arrow across the knees, Mat Fitchett’s finisher) in 10:13. **¾
3. Louis Lyndon tapped out Tadarius Thomas in a Dragon Sleeper at 11:02. ***
4. Chris Dickinson put away “Nasty” Russ Myers in 7:52 with the Death Eater. **
5. Marion Fontaine pinned AIW Tag Team champion Veda Scott with a running Liger Bomb at 7:19. **½
6. Rickey Shane Page, with an assist from Eric Ryan, defeats Colin Delaney with a Beach Break in 10:00. **¾
7. BJ Whitmer submits Josh Prohibition in the Peruvian Necktie at 11:47. **½
8. Ethan Page defeated Seleziya Sparx with the Spinning Dwayne in 4:35. **¾
9. Michael Elgin triumphs over Biff Busick with the Revolution Bomb at 17:21. ***½
10. Josh Alexander put away ACH with a corkscrew tombstone piledriver in 17:15. ***½
11. Adam Cole pins Tim Donst with the Florida Key at 14:59. ***
12. Johnny Gargano bests Matt Cross in the main event with the Hurts Donut in 20:30. ***½