This week’s edition of the Rust Belt Report takes a different format than normal, to preview AIW’s upcoming JLIT weekend. This column contains background information and video of every competitor in the tournament. So feel free to use it to educate yourself about the best indie wrestlers in the world.
The JT Lightning Tournament
This weekend, Absolute Intense Wrestling, arguably the hottest independent wrestling promotion in America, is presenting a double-shot of shows in Cleveland, Ohio. The JT Lightning Tournament is a 24 person tournament comprised of some of the best wrestlers on the independent scene. Night One of the tournament, Friday, May 24th, will feature the first-round match-ups. Night Two of the tournament, Saturday, May 25th, will feature the rest of the tournament, as well as two non-tournament matches. The show is being filmed for DVD release by Smart Mark Video.
The tournament, now in its third-year of existence, adopted its structure from IWA: Mid-South’s Ted Petty Invitational (TPI). TPI ran from 2000 until 2008, and featured the best up and comers in indie wrestling. Over the years, tournament participants included a “who’s who’’ of indie wrestling including Low Ki, Drake Younger, AJ Styles, BJ Whitmer, Chris Hero, CM Punk, Christopher Daniels, Claudio Castagnoli (Antonio Cesaro), Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson, Kevin Steen, El Generico, Colt Cabana, and Sara Del Ray. The tournament ended with the folding of IWA:MS.
In 2011, AIW moved in to fill the void left by the death of IWA:MS by promoting their own version of the tournament The initial tournament was promoted as the Todd Pettengill Invitation which allowed AIW to retain the familiar TPI abbreviation. AIW’s TPI featured names such as Paul London, Jimmy Jacobs, and Colt Cabana. Shiima Xion (donate to his recovery here) would win the first tournament by defeating Gregory Iron and Tim Donst in the finals.
Shortly after TPI 2011, Cleveland wrestler/promoter/ and trainer JT Lightning (James Hasse) passed away after a battle with throat cancer. His death was a huge blow to the Cleveland wrestling community, as Hasse had been the long-time promoter of Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling, and trained many of the area stars.
In 2012, Absolute Intense Wrestling renamed the TPI to the JT Lightning Invitational Tournament in his honor. The 2012 tournament featured names such as ACH, Spanky, and BJ Whitmer. Current AIW Absolute Champion Eric Ryan won the tournament by defeating ACH and BJ Whitmer in the finals.
This year, AIW has really stacked the tournament and truly inherited the TPI mantle. The tournament features a great mix of established indie names such as Michael Elgin, Johnny Gargano, BJ Whitmer, and Adam Cole, and others just poised to break-out such as Josh Alexander, Ethan Page, and Davey Vega. AIW promoter John Thorne has called this the best card he’s ever assembled, and there’s more to that than just hype.
This article breaks down the accomplishments of each of the participants, and includes embedded video of each of them. If you’re a wrestling fan, you owe it to yourself to discover the next generation of starts, and many of them can be found in this tournament.
The Matches and the Players
Johnny Gargano vs. “M-Dogg” Matt Cross
Matt Cross was featured on the last edition of WWE’s Tough Enough. But unlike most of those guys, he can work. He also worked in MTV’s tragically short-lived wrestling promotion, Wrestling Society X. In AIW, he has held the Tag Team titles alongside Josh Prohibition.
Johnny Gargano is the current Dragon Gate USA Open the Freedom Gate champion, a title he has held for nearly two years. He has also wrestled in CHIKARA, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and Combat Zone Wrestling. In AIW, he is a former Absolute Champion and a two-time Intense Division Champion.
Both of these guys are basically legends in the Cleveland wrestling scene. This will be a fitting main event to night one of the show, as Gargano and Cross were both trained by JT Lightning.
Johnny Gargano Highlight Video from Dragon’s Gate USA
Matt Cross Highlight Video
Biff Busick vs. “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin
Biff Busick was trained by Funaki and Lance Storm. He has also wrestled in Full Impact Pro and Combat Zone Wrestling. His only match in AIW was a loss to the “Smooth Savage” Jaka in November of 2012.
Michael Elgin is a Canadian, and a regular with Ring of Honor. He has also held titles in Pro Wrestling Guerilla and IWA Mid-South. He has yet to win a match in AIW, losing to Johnny Gargano, ACH, and BJ Whitmer. His January AIW match against ACH is worth going out of your way to find.
Elgin’s in-ring presence and style bears an uncanny resemblance to Chris Benoit. He even uses the Crossface. I don’t really know how I feel about that… but it seems worth mentioning as it was the first thing I noticed about him. As a worker, he’s extremely talented and uses a lot of power offense.
Biff Busick vs. Taka Suzuki from Beyond Wrestling
Michael Elgin vs. Kyle O’Reilly from Ring of Honor
Kimber Lee vs. “The Master of the Thrust” Bobby Beverly
Kimber Lee has worked in Shimmer, Women Superstars Uncensored, and Combat Zone Wrestling. She has yet to win a match in AIW, most recently losing to Athena at Girl’s Night Out 8 in February. Bobby Beverly is a regular on the Ohio indie scene, but has yet to really make waves outside of the area, which is a shame. Beverly’s lack of bookings was actually made into an angle by AIW. Together with Rickey Shane Page and Eric Ryan, he formed the stable #NIXON, a contingent angry about being held down that has dominated AIW’s storylines for the last year.
Kimber Lee vs. Athena from Women’s Superstars Uncensored
Bobby Beverly vs. ACH vs. Jason Gory from Midwest Wrestling
Josh Prohibition vs. BJ Whitmer
Josh Prohibition was a regular in Xtreme Pro Wrestling and Combat Zone Wrestling about ten years ago. Together with Matt Cross, he twice held the XPW Tag Team Championship. Over the last few years he has mainly wrestled in the Northeast Ohio area. He’s been an AIW Tag Team Champion, also with Matt Cross.
BJ Whitmer is a veteran of the indie wrestling scene, and probably the most well-known competitor in this tournament. He is a four-time Ring of Honor Tag Team Champion, and the current AIW Intense Division Champion. He’s also worked in CZW, IWA:MS, and did a couple matches in TNA during their early days. Whitmer retired in 2008, but returned in 2011. He recently challenged Jay Briscoe for the RoH World title at a TV taping.
Excellent Josh Prohibition Promo from AIW
Josh Prohibition v. Dan Paysan from UWA
The Finish to BJ Whitmer vs. Davey Richards from AIW
Josh Alexander vs. ACH
As I’ve said before, if you haven’t heard of Josh Alexander, you will soon. He’s worked in CHIKARA and Evolve, and is incredibly talented and works real stiff. He’s yet to be pinned in AIW, and is my pick to win the whole tournament. He’s coming off a match of the year contender against Ethan Page last month in AIW. He’s a great example of the Canadian talent that AIW finds, and introduces to the American audience.
ACH is one of the hottest wrestlers on the indie scene today. He oozes charisma, and works a great high flying style. He wrestles out of Texas, so it’s really a testament to his talent that he gets bookings throughout the Midwest and Northeast. He’s a regular with Ring of Honor, and has also worked in CHIKARA and Combat Zone Wrestling. In AIW, he had a fantastic series of Iron-man matches with AR Fox and was a finalist in last year’s JLIT tournament.
Josh Alexander vs. Louis Lyndon vs. Davey Vega from AIW
ACH vs. AR Fox from Beyond Wrestling
Chris Dickinson vs. “Nasty” Russ Myers
Chris Dickinson is a ten-year veteran, who has turned into a hell of a performer. Outside of AIW, he’s also wrestled in Jersey All-Pro Wrestling, EVOLVE Wrestling, and Beyond Wrestling. The last few months in AIW have seen him feuding with BJ Whitmer, and winning a series of ultraviolent matches against the Necro Butcher, Masada, and Matt Tremont. Russ Myers has mainly worked in the Ohio area indies. In AIW, he’s one half of the popular tag team, The Jollyville Fuck-Its.
Highlights of Chris Dickinson vs. Necro Butcher from AIW
The Jollyville Fuck-Its (Russ Myers and T-Money) vs. Aeroform from Beyond Wrestling
Adam Cole vs. Tim Donst
Adam Cole needs no introduction to fans of indie wrestling. He is the current Pro Wrestling Guerilla Champion, and has held the RoH Television Championship, and the CZW Junior Heavyweight Championship. He recently challenged Jay Briscoe for the RoH Championship in the main event of the Border Wars IPPV. This will be his third match in AIW.
Tim Donst was trained by Chris Hero and Mike Quackenbush. He’s a regular with CHIKARA, where he held their Young Lion’s Championship. In AIW, he’s been calling out Eddie Kingston, who defeated him in January. He is also a former AIW Absolute Champion.
Adam Cole vs. Adam Pierce from NWA Ring Warriors
Tim Donst Highlight Video
Marion Fontaine vs. Veda Scott
Veda Scott has only been wrestling a couple of years but you couldn’t tell from her performances. She is a graduate of the Drexel School of Law, and was PWI’s Rookie of the Year last year. She’s been working in SHIMMER and is a ringside interviewer for RoH. She’s one half of the AIW Tag Team Champions (w/ Gregory Iron) and is the current #1 Contender to the AIW Women’s Championship. I could be totally off, but AIW seems to be doing a slow-burn face turn, with Veda not being afraid to mix it up with male wrestlers, and carrying the weight of her tag team.
Marion Fontaine is one of the best parts of the Ohio indie wrestling scene. Aside from a cup of coffee in CHIKARA, Fontaine has mainly worked for Midwestern indies. He’s extremely charismatic, and uber-talented in the ring, but his lack of size may prevent him from breaking through. In AIW, he recently finished a long feud with Colin Delaney, and has been tagging with Jock Samson. He is a former AIW Intense Division Champion.
Veda Scott vs. Stan Stylez from Beyond Wrestling
Veda Scott Promo from AIW
Marion Fontaine vs. Dave Cole from Hybrid Wrestling (Fontaine has called this his favorite match of all-time. Oddly enough, I was actually in attendance for it, more than two years before I moved to Cleveland permanently.)
Gary Jay vs. Davey Vega
Gary Jay is a talented worker, who recently wrestled his first match for CHIKARA. In AIW, he is a part of the Submission Squad. I’m not extremely familiar with Jay’s work, but what I’ve seen, I’ve enjoyed. Davey Vega has wrestled in Beyond Wrestling, CHIKARA, and IWA: Mid-South. In AIW, he’s been on a bit of a roll, recently challenging Eric Ryan for the Absolute Championship.
Gary Jay vs. Slim Sexy from ACW
Davey Vega vs. Louis Lyndon from AAW
Louis Lyndon vs. Tadarius Thomas
Louis Lyndon is the brother, and former tag team partner of Flip Kendrick. In AIW, he’s a former two-time tag team champion. He’s recently been working more and more as a singles wrestler, and is a high point of every show he works. Lyndon’s just insanely athletic Tadarius Thomas is a regular with Ring of Honor. In RoH, he’s been teaming with ACH. This will be his first match in AIW.
Louis Lyndon Highlights
Tadarius Thomas vs. QT Marshall from Ring of Honor
Ethan Page vs. Seleziya Sparx
Ethan Page is one of the best wrestlers, on the indie scene, in the world. He’s has been tearing it up in AIW, and finally the world is starting to take notice. He recently wrestled his first match with Ring of Honor. He’s another great example of the Canadian talent that AIW finds, and introduces to the American audience. Seleziya Sparx was recently one of the Hoopla Hotties for Ring of Honor. This will be her in-ring debut at AIW.
This match was originally scheduled to be Ethan Page vs. Addy Starr, but through indie wrestling drama, Starr is no longer working AIW shows. However, Page vs. Sparx is a match that AIW has been building for months, although it feels like it may have been hot-shotted a little bit after Addy Starr and AIW severed relations. Sparx was Ethan Page’s valet, often getting involved in his matches and taking crazy bumps. Through it out all, Page was terrible to her. Last month at “Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta,” Sparx throw in the towel for Page, as he was battling Josh Alexander in a match of the year candidate. Page responded by Rock Bottoming her, and breaking up with her.
Ethan Page vs. Colin Delaney from AIW
Seleziya Sparx vs. Courtney Rush from MCW
Colin Delaney vs. Rickey Shane Page
Colin Delaney is best-known for his time in the WWE relaunched ECW. But don’t hold that against him. He recently rededicated himself to wrestling, and has proved himself to be a more than capable worker. He’s worked shows this year for Ring of Honor and Combat Zone Wrestling. In AIW, he won the Gauntlet for the Gold (Royal Rumble style battle royal) to become the #1 Contender to Eric Ryan’s Absolute Championship, after going the whole year without winning a match and entering the Gauntlet at #1.
Rickey Shane Page is the Rust Belt Report’s favorite wrestler. A big man that moves incredibly well, Page has yet to really break out of the Ohio scene. I suspect that it’s just a matter of time before one of the more well-known indies comes looking for him, because he can do just about any style. In AIW, he’s a three-time tag team champion.
This match is part of the principle storyline running in AIW at the moment. Rickey Shane Page, alongside Bobby Beverly, and Eric Ryan formed the stable #NIXON last June. Angry at their lack of bookings, they entered the ring following the main event at Absolution VII (AIW’s Wrestlemania) in Nixon masks and destroyed the set, and brawled with the entire AIW roster. Colin Delaney has lead the charge against Nixon, winning a shot at Eric Ryan’s title. Since then, #NIXON has tormented Delaney about his alcoholism.
Colin Delaney Highlight Video
Rickey Shane Page Highlight Video
Official Rust Belt Report Predictions
Because I know y’all care so much, he’s my bracket of how I think the tournament will play out. Click on it to enlarge it.
The Final Verdict
If you’re a fan of indie wrestling, and you live within a day’s drive of Cleveland, you’re failing at life if you don’t make it out to these shows. You can buy tickets for only $20 a show, and find out more information, at AIWrestling.com.