On paper, this wasn’t my favorite card of the year, but I was blown away by what I received. Every match delivered in one sense or another, serving its purpose either building toward something or hitting a home run entirely. For the number of stars you will find on this card, to the quality of the matches, to the masterful promo and character work, down to callbacks to previous matches and feuds, “United We Stand” is an independent pro-wrestling’s fan’s wet dream. This is wrestling at its highest level, this is AAW at its zenith, and this is just a sample of what’s to come. For many of the 522 fans in attendance at 115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park, IL, this was their show of the year, and for me it is right up there. Definitely one to check out if you’re on the fence.
1. John Morrison d. Colt Cabana via Starship Pain
Morrison started the night with a heel promo running down the AAW fans before mentioning that Chuck Taylor was late or was off the show, so he had nobody to face. He laid down an open challenge to any local competitor, and Chicago’s own Colt Cabana came out to accept. This was a fine match that laid the ground work for the rest of the show without burning the audience out too soon. There was a funny moment where Morrison tossed his “Boone: The Bounty Hunter” T-shirt into the audience, which the fan threw back to Colt, who promptly tucked the thing between his naughty bits. Nay if you’re into gross-out humor, yay if you like continuity, as that spot plays off at least the last two Morrison matches, maybe more. (I can’t believe I’m discussing continuity in a John Morrison/Colt Cabana opening match, but this show is that damn good.) This was the best possible use of these two. No complaints.
2. Samantha Heights d. Scarlett Bourdeaux via kick to the head
Maybe my rating is a little higher than most on this, but these two impressed the crap out of me and made me look like a dang fool for ever doubting them. I’ll admit, I questioned why this match was happening in the first place, and after all was said and done, I had my answer. What they gave us was a brutal, bloody, stiff showdown that proved just how tough each woman was — especially Scarlett, who worked the duration of the contest with a busted nose. Watching her wipe the blood away from her face as she struggled to give what it took to continue was dazzling to witness live from the first row. It was full of that real, raw, grittiness that made me a fan of wrestling in the first place. It felt like a fight. Anybody who knows me knows I’m not the biggest women’s wrestling fan, but I am always open to eating my words. And on this night, Scarlett and Heights made me do just that.
***Sami Callihan gave an interview backstage, and he was not in a good mood. He said he was done being a nice guy and he was done being stepped on for it. He said he would beat Keith Lee later in the night.***
3. Paco Gonzalez and Team EatClips (Trey Miguel and Stephen Wolf) d. Jake Something, Curt Stallion and Danny Adams via moonsault combo from Miguel and Wolf
So, you might have heard of this little promotion in St. Louis owned by Michael Elgin called Glory Pro Wrestling, which has AAW owner Danny Daniels’ personal endorsement — which is a big a deal. It just so happens AAW is in the market for some young prospects, and Glory Pro is loaded with them; every man in this match but Miguel was a Glory Pro representative. This was Something’s, Stallion’s and Adams’ Chicago debut. As always, Paco was just about the most over man alive, for reasons not even he knows. Take my word, I asked. This match was wild and spotty, but again, that’s the purpose it served as this show ascended to its peak. And the spots, oh they were good. If you love dives, this match was loaded with them. How about a reverse Spanish Fly from the top? Curt Stallion is a mad man. And Jake Something looks like a main event-ready talent right here and now. I definitely think there is a future for all of these guys, in one capacity or another, who each received a standing ovation following the match. I think fans of Glory Pro will really like this match, especially.
4. ACH d. Myron Reed via Buster Call Brainbuster
Now we’re getting into the cream. I had concerns going into this match that ACH would not bring his work boots, that he would turn in a standard but still good performance, but those fears were quickly quelled. ACH is at his very best when he wants to work, like when he’s in there with somebody for the first time and really wants to challenge himself and put on a match his opponent can look back on and cherish. This will be that match for Myron Reed, who absolutely tore the house down here in his own right. This match was slower and more methodical when it could have been a sprint, and the dives and high spots actually meant something. So goes 2017 ACH, a more compact, complete wrestler than he was at young Myron’s age, though that isn’t to say the kid didn’t hang. He absolutely did.
The story here was Myron’s back, which pissy veteran heel ACH targeted to absolute perfection. Myron sells the back a lot in his matches, which makes sense given his lanky frame. Those matches, not for that reason alone, carry an air of realism to them, but his selling needs to be mentioned too. He really sold ACH’s beatdown, with great facial expressions that are well beyond his years. ACH’s bully act was tremendous and played into the story well. The crowd wasn’t much into this one, but I loved it. If they didn’t know who Myron Reed was before Saturday night, they do now. ACH put over Reed after the match while also getting a jab in on Michael Elgin.
***AR Fox was interviewed backstage by Mart DeRosa. Fox said usual partner Rey Fenix was having border issues, so his partner for this night would be Jeff Cobb. Fox then dedicated the match to Fenix.***
5. OI4K (Dave and Jake Crist) d. War Machine (Hanson and Rowe) via assisted top-rope cutter from Dave to Rowe
War Machine is such a treat to watch. Just two dads smashing their dad frames against two random dudes, that’s what Derek pays to see, oh yes. All the better when those “two random dudes” are studs in their own right, Dave and Jake Crist, Ohio is 4 Killers. War Machine always comes to play, showing off their war paint and viking gear during their entrance, which is truly something special unto itself. From a pure live viewership perspective, War Machine is second to none. This match consisted of all four men being thrown around, or throwing themselves around, for the amusement of adults. It’s people helping people when you think about it. Dave and Jake were great, don’t get me wrong, but Hanson and Rowe were (and are) just on another level. These guys should be in WWE.
The crowd was red-hot for this one the whole time, and I would say this and the next match did the best job in keeping the audience’s attention throughout. OI4K sold huge for the monstrous War Machine, bumping around like 1997 Shawn Michaels at a coke factory. Hanson stole the show with a ridiculous handspring into a back elbow, which generated a “holy shit” chant from the fans. There was some fun brawling on the outside and the usual shenanigans from the Killers to help them secure the win, which is big for them in the grand scheme of things. Remember, War Machine is IWGP Tag Team Champions. (Thinking face emoji.) Top stuff right here. Check it out.
After the match, OI4K faked out War Machine by going for a handshake before kicking them low.
***Marty DeRosa interviewed Mat Fitchett backstage, who said he was going to prove himself and beat Matt Riddle. Davey Vega strolled in and cast his doubts, furthering the divide between the former Tag Team Champions.***
6. Shane Strickland and Penta El Zero M d. Trevor Lee and Garza Jr. via double stomp from Strickland to Garza
I don’t even know where to begin with this match. For one, just look who’s in it. All of these guys have main event talent, but on paper, it seems kind of thrown together, you know? Strickland and Penta don’t tag, nor do Lee and Garza. Yet, it totally worked, and on multiple levels. Trevor Lee is a dastardly man, and a heck of a heel in a company glut with heels. He has no problem being scummy and playing to his senses when he needs to draw a reaction, including getting on the microphone mid-match to put himself and his partner over as TNA Superstars (which is about the most heel move you could pull these days).
Some of the four-way spots were out of this world, including one where Penta caught one opponent on his back and another in the package piledriver position before Strickland did a diving double stomp. Penta himself is such a spectacle, the announced 24th entrant into PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles, and AAW fans are treated to him once a month. I mean, seriously, watching him right now is like watching Great Muta. He is something special and at AAW he’s just our Penta. We are living in treasured times, lads.
I have to give special recognition to the chemistry between Garza Jr. and Penta, and Garza Jr. and the crowd. Basically, I love Garza Jr. and if AAW booked him on every show here on out, I would not complain. Here is a man who pulls you out of your chair in reaction to him, cheer or boo, but you will walk away entertained. From the first fan in the front row, to the people standing back by the bar, Garza knows how to draw in a crowd while holding his own in the ring. I know he lost, but a Penta/Garza Heritage Title match would build the house and then tear it down.
7. Scarlet & Graves (Dezmond Xavier and Zachary Wentz) d. AR Fox and Jeff Cobb via assist moonsault from Wentz to Fox *TITLE CHANGE*
This was pretty good but I feel it was hurt by Fenix’s absence. Whatever would have been of an AR Fonix/Scarlet & Graves flippy man extravaganza? Probably great things. This match was not great, but again, it was good and it served a very good purpose in setting up Jeff Cobb’s heel turn. By the end of the match, after all the dives had been exhausted, after Zach Wentz had been thrown around like a goddamn school child, and after AR Fox had done something stupid, Cobb turned heel. But at the time, it looked like he was just getting back at Fox for knocking him off the apron previously in an “oopsie daisy” moment. So when it came time for Fox to tag out, in a time of need, Cobb pulled back and allowed the hungry Xavier and Wentz to double team him into submission or in this case, pinfall. Words are fun. A fine showing overall but it lost steam late, and the crowd had clearly felt it from the prior matches. Worth viewing to see the title change and Cobb’s transition into darkness.
8. Matt Riddle d. Mat Fitchett via Bromission
It is tough to choose a match of the night, because there were four I would consider in the running, but this one captivated me the most, entertained me the most, and instilled within me that feeling of being a little kid at his first wrestling show the most. I wasn’t sure how Fitchett would stack up with Riddle after a good-not-great match with Zack Sabre Jr. at last month’s “Killers Among Us,” but both men more than held their own here, and then some. They started with mat work early, ha ha, exchanging holds and submissions, laying a real nice foundation for what wound up being another great match. I know he’s doing a run with Davey Vega right now, but this match should get Mat Fitchett booked elsewhere as a singles star. As if the people need any refresher on what he is capable of doing.
To watch Riddle keep evolving is truly remarkable. Here is a man who started wrestling at my age, 29, and now he is only getting better. Seeing some of his sequences grow over time, from a simplistic fisherman’s buster to a pair of rolling busters into something else, or to see him throw a curve into his tombstone piledriver by making it Gotch-style for some reason before slapping on the Bromission, it’s great to witness. And Fitchett’s always been this good, let’s be real here. He gave Riddle a big fight here, and this came across as such. But in the end, it was Riddle who got the win.
***Davey Vega came out after the match and ran down Fitchett, telling him he knew he couldn’t beat Riddle. Fitchett then tells Vega to f— himself.***
9. Chuck Taylor d. Davey Vega via snap piledriver
Chuck Taylor showed up! And he faced Davey Vega, who was out to show former partner Fitchett he could actually win a match and… uh-oh. Nope, that is no good, Davey Vega. No, Davey Vega, don’t get slammed against the guardrail. No. Davey, please. No, Davey, please don’t get snap piledrivered on the stage. Davey, think with your head. No, Davey Vega, not another piledriver, you are better than this, please.
He was not better than that. And he lost, but hey, you can’t job out the PWG Champion the week after he wins the belt, man. You’ve got to make Chuck look strong. Just kidding. This was another fine match, though it wasn’t anything special. A much needed popcorn match before what was to follow. The crowd was very into both guys, for Chuck Taylor, against Davey Vega, who is getting over big time as a heel. Yet another AAW heel, it’s crazy to consider.
10. David Starr d. Eddie Kingston via chin lock to win the I Quit Match
Speaking of heels, David Starr is the most heinous man alive — which I would comfortably say if his match was not followed by that of Sami Callihan. But Starr is a mega heel in AAW in his own right, and if anything was shown by the pre-match promos from both of these guys, it was that this was going to be a hot, hot match up. And it was very hot, the chunks of it I was able to see, because this was one of those matches that went all over the place, into the crowd and around the bar, near the merch tables before heading back to the ring. I wasn’t able to get a good visual on it, but I know Kingston tossed Starr off the bar at one point.
There was a lot of brawling and plunder and weapon usage, including Starr hitting a fisherman’s buster onto Kingston onto the ring bell, neck-first. I know this is wrestling and you tend to fake stuff like that, but Eddie really landed neck-first on that thing, no way around it. A gruesome spot sold wonderfully by Kingston, who made us all believe his neck was being held together by pipe cleaners and masking tape. Starr cut a midmatch promo on Kingston, getting some vicious heat.
Jeff Cobb eventually interfered and British Bulldog’d Kingston through a table set up in the corner, though it was Starr’s chin lock (onto an unconscious King) that ended the match. Note I didn’t say Kingston quit, because he didn’t. After the match, Kingston remained down for a lengthy period of time before backstage producers came to check on him. Eddie is such a tremendous storyteller, and he’s gone to town for this current story of his. And Starr himself was masterful. Oh, and Starr’s new teammate Cobb? You mean the Kosher Pineapple? Yeah, that’s a thing. Welcome to AAW, where heels have a place.
11. Sami Callihan d. Keith Lee via chair shot to the head
You ever watch those TLC matches with the Dudleys, Hardys and Edge and Christian from like, 2001? Ignoring Edge spearing Jeff from the ladder and the Swantons off the top, do you remember some of those chair shots? Straight-on shots to the head, unprotected, just dizzying, stupefying, brain-rattling, eye-rolling, cranium-crunching, blood-letting strikes to the bone that is your skull. Do you remember the echoes? The sound of steel on forehead? Well, this match had one of those head shots, and good Lord, am I still horrified. Happy wrestling, everybody!
Yes, the head shot that ended it all was horrible, but the match surrounding it wasn’t terrible. Sami focused heavy on Lee’s tree trunk-sized leg, just like he said he would do, inviting a chair into the action and even bringing out a figure four. That leg work limited Lee from doing most any of the cool stuff he normally does, or is capable of, and as such I thought the match fell a little flat overall. I do appreciate how Sami operates within the rules of AAW, as he seems to be among the few who knows AAW is no disqualification, no count outs.
The crowd had mostly quieted down by the middle of the match, which might speak to the pace they were working, or the style, or the fact that, hey, this was already a hell of a show going on four hours by this point. But that chair shot at the end sure woke everybody up. The building sat quietly in awe for a good 20-30 seconds following the hit, everybody just shocked. “Could this really happen in 2017?” we each wondered. And it was agreed to by both guys, or so I was told, but Keith didn’t get his hands up, which almost makes it worse. I don’t know, not exactly a moment you want to see here and now.