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Faces to Watch the Second Half of 2017

2017 has been an amazing year in independent wrestling. Half way through the year, Billy Corgan has assumed control of the NWA, Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force has overtaken Impact, and NJPW has begun its conquest of America.

It’s been a spectacular year at all levels of independent wrestling. Here are a few names and faces you need to be watching as we enter the second half of the year.

NICK DEPP

Nick Depp began the year by winning The Prince of the Deathmatches – and promptly found himself on the sidelines nursing an injury. The temporary set back hasn’t slowed him down  a bit. “The Sports Entertainer” is expanding his territory and gaining new ground not only due to his in-ring work, but his skills on the mic. Depp cuts an amazing promo as a face but especially as a heel. His mouth is going to take him far.

ALEX DANIELS

“The Real Ben Affleck” is the talk of the independent wrestling podcasts, and with good reason. Take away the Ben Affleck gimmick, he is one of the brightest and most talented workers in the Midwest. One observer told me privately he thinks Daniels will be in Ring of Honor in just a few years. The Ohio native is expanding his territory as well, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his big break.

MICKIE KNUCKLES

Mickie is no rookie. She’s been around for 17 years, breaking ground the WWE’s women are only now beginning to tread. Mickie has caught fire in 2017. She headlined a spectacular main event in Ft. Wayne covered in my blog back in April for Girl Fight. She and Randi West stirred controversy in Southern Indiana with a brutal falls count anywhere match. To top it all off, she just won the OVW Women’s Championship. This is Mickie’s year, and no one can stop her.

AMAZING MARIA

A Canadian transplant working out of Louisville, Kentucky, Amazing Maria is one of the most under-rated women in the women’s scene. Her skills in the ring are solid, and her character work as a heel improve with every outing. Whether she’s on her own, paired with Samantha Heights, or partnered with Horrorshow manager Jason Saint, Amazing Maria is a stand out on every show.

OI4K

I’ve been a fan of the Crist brothers, Dave and Jake, ever since they yanked the tag titles away from Aaron Williams and Ron Mathis at D1W a few years ago. Not only have they become regulars at IWA Mid-South, they’re making appearances for PWG in Los Angeles. Dave Crist has had an exceptional year, despite some injuries, having won the IWA Mid-South Championship and CZW’s Best of the Best 2017. A fellow wrestler told me he doesn’t think they’ll be exclusive to the Midwest for long. I couldn’t agree more.

INDY CARD MAFIA

The tag team of Thomas Brewington and Eric Emanon is starting to make deep inroads in the South and the Midwest. They put the southern territories on notice a few weeks ago when they invaded Atlanta’s AWE and shocked everyone by earning a victory over the red hot Carnies (another must see tag team, I might add). “Do we have your attention now?” Emanon asked on Facebook. Yes, sir, you do.

THE HITMAN FOR HIRE MR. GRIM

Mr. Grim is something special. His combination of speed, power, and high-flying make him a must-see attraction, but that’s not the reason you want to see this man live. You want to know what’s in the briefcase. You want to see what happens when the Hitman for Hire claims a victim. Grim is coming, and he’s headed your way sooner than you think.

KONGO KONG

Kong has already made the leap from indy darling to TV star, and his star’s about to get brighter. Kongo Kong was one of Jeff Jarrett’s early signees for Global Force Wrestling. Now, with GFW taking over and Jarrett firmly in control, there is no stopping the big man.

Please note: This is by no means a comprehensive list of the up and coming rising stars in independent wrestling. If you have a favorite you want to add to this list, please comment below. Let’s let the casual wrestling fans of the world know why they need to tune in to independent wrestling.

The Ladies Steal the Show at Heroes and Legends

First things first: Heroes and Legends is a fantastic promotion. Based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, this independent wrestling group puts on a heck of a show. Heroes and Legends VIII took place today at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. If the very name of the building doesn’t remind you of the old territory days, the guest list will. Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, and Jerry Lawler were the headliners, and the King even stepped into the ring, giving the fans a classic strap-dropping performance against Dru Skillz.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The day began at noon, when the doors opened and fans came through to check out the vendor tables. Vendors included toys and collectibles, an artist, a few promoters from other area shows, a podcast, and the US military. Wrestlers for the show were sprinkled throughout the vendors to ensure that both wrestlers and vendors got some traffic.

Girl Fight put on a show that started around 1:30. The GF show was depleted due to several last minute cancellations, including Su Yung. The young competitors worked their hearts out, but could not get the attention of the crowd.

Enter Mickie Knuckles.

Mickie and Dementia D’Rose took on Amazing Maria and Samantha Heights in a tag match for the main event. Mickie tried to get the crowd’s attention and pump them up. The crowd gave her nothing, right up until the moment she said, “No Holds Barred, No DQ, Falls Count Anywhere.”

The fans popped, and the ladies literally tore the house down. Samantha Heights was duplexed down a set of bleachers steps and later tossed into a trash can. Amazing Maria was squashed beneath a steel chair. Maria and Samantha were dropped onto a table that refused to give. Fans swarmed, phones held high, to follow the action, with Sugar Dunkerton leading the crowd and the cheers in the front. It was sensational match that set the bar ridiculously high for the main show.

The Razor Ramones punk band played a brief  set mid-afternoon, then proceeded to sell cassettes – yes, I said CASSETTES – to the fans. (More on them later this week.) A battle royal took place at 4:30, with a surprise appearance by Bushwhacker Luke, and then it was show time.

The War Memorial Coliseum proved a great venue for wrestling. The main lights dimmed, and spotlights illuminated the ring, giving the whole room an old school feel. Once again, the ladies rose to the occasion, as the best match on the first half of the card was a Falls Count Anywhere battle between Randi West and Paloma Star, with Hardcore Heather Owens acting as guest referee.

Sugar Dunkerton and the former Adam Rose were an entertaining tag team in the second half of the night, and their match ended with a parade of Rosebuds, including the bunny. Their match was followed by Lawler and Dru Skillz from Indianapolis, in which Lawler gave the fans exactly what they wanted.

The main event pitted local hero Kongo Kong against Ryback, and it proved to be a phenomenal way to end the night. Kong dwarfed Ryback, who is not normally the smaller man in the match, and both men exhibited their power and agility. Ryback had no trouble powerlifting the monster Kong, while Kong brought the house down when he super-plexed Ryback from the top rope. The match became a triple threat when the masked “Ginger Dragon” entered the fray. The Dragon turned out to be Dru Skillz, who won the belt from Ryback, but Ryback and Kong teamed up on the duplicitous new champ – including two top rope splashes from Kong.

A few other thoughts on my first experience at Heroes and Legends:

Rob Conway is as good a guy as everyone says he is. The two of us graduated from New Albany High School in the early 90s, and it was great getting to meet him and hear some of his stories.

Shannon Moore shook hands with everyone in the vendor area when he arrived, even the non-wrestlers. A class act. Mickie Knuckles did the same just before she left.

I got to meet Tyger Smith, who helped train my friends Marc Hauss and Eric Emanon. Nice guy with some funny stories.

There’s nothing more cruel than teasing that we might get a Ninja (Hy Zaya) vs. Demon (Shane Mercer)  showdown at the end of a battle royal – only to see both eliminated by the masked man who won the match. So close!

Did I mention the ladies stole the show? Seriously, the WWE does NOT have the market cornered on women’s wrestling. Mickie, Heather Owens, and Randi West deliver every time. Dementia D’Rose and Paloma Star held their own with the hardcore veterans and dished some serious violence. Samantha Heights and Amazing Maria are stars on the rise.

If you’re in Northern Indiana, you owe it to yourself to check out Heroes and Legends. Jayson Maples and his crew do everything right, creating the perfect mix of classic stars with independent talent. Kudos to everyone who made today such a memorable event.

Twenty Years of Doing It by Their Rules

There’s nothing in the world like an “IWA Mid-South Rules” match. That’s because in an IWA Mid-South Rules match, there are no rules. There’s no disqualifications, and falls count anywhere. And if you see the action coming your way, grab your stuff and get OUT of the way.

IWA Mid-South has been doing it their way for a long, long time. They’ve seen dozens of would-be competition come and go in that time. They’ve been chased out of buildings and entire states. The haters can keep on hating because this Thursday, IWA Mid-South will celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Ian Rotten has booked a stellar line up in celebration of the milestone anniversary. There’s no flier online yet, but the line-up, care of IWA Mid South’s Facebook page, says all you need to know:

“Money” MATT CAGE vs “Knockout Artist” CHRIS HERO vs COLT “Boom Boom” CABANA

THE THREEJECTS (REED BENTLEY, JOHN WAYNE MURDOCH & NICK DEPP) & MARK WOLF take on TODD MORTON’s HANGMEN, DEREK NEAL & BULL PAIN

JJ GARRETT defends his IWA World Title against “The Wild Eyed Southern Boy” TRACY SMOTHERS

“Dangerous” DOUG GILBERT vs KONGO KONG

“Fight or Die” COLE RADRICK vs “Callihan Death Machine” SAMI CALLIHAN

4 WAY TAG MATCH: SAGE PHILIPS & TEDDY KING vs THE BROTHERHOOD (BROTHER REED & MICKEY MUSCLES) vs BOMB SHELTER (ZODIAK & JOSEPH SCHWARTZ) vs NVD (HY-ZAYA & SHANE MERCER)

RAM JAM vs ZACH GOWEN

LOSER LEAVES IWA: “Nasty” NATE CROSS w/ DAHLIA vs JC ROTTEN w/ TORI

20th ANNIVERSARY IWA RUMBLE! 2 competitors start, every minute another competitor enters the ring!

DIRTY DUTCH MANTEL is also scheduled to appear!

The show will be at Jammerz Roller Rink in Clarksville, Indiana on Thursday, October 6. First and second row seat holders get early admission at 5:30 PM for a Meet and Greet. Doors open at 6:45 with bell time at 7:30.

Tickets are $30 for first row, $25 for second row, $20 for general admission. Kids 13 and under are $15.

Contact Misty at BestMistyEVER@gmail.com to order tickets.

Congratulations to Ian and the amazing crew who have kept this Kentuckiana tradition going for two decades!

The Rise of Kongo Kong

12373157_1088697801140927_8493746766399159162_nThe first time I saw Kongo Kong was when he shoved me out of his way.

It was January 2014. Heidi Lovelace and Jordynn Grace were embroiled in a “Falls Count Anywhere in Clark County” match in Clarksville, Indiana for IWA Mid-South. Predictably, the match went out into the parking lot, and I followed the crowd to the doors, eager to see what would happen. Next thing I knew, I and dozens of other fans were being pushed out of the way by a monster, a giant of a man known as Kongo Kong. Kong forced his way to the front of the crowd, where he flattened Lovelace on the back of a truck trailer. He then carried her back into the building and slid her into the ring so that Grace could secure the easy pin fall.

Lest you get the wrong idea, Kong is no Andy Kaufman. His actions against Lovelace were merely a favor paid to an ally from the heel locker room and not his typical fare. Over the last couple of years Kong has faced legends, Hall of Famers, and the best the independent scene has to offer including Sabu, Rhino, Shane Douglas, Brian Meyers (the former Curt Hawkins), Moose, Scott Steiner, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Chris Hero, and Gangrel.

Kong does not taste defeat often. He’s collected an impressive number of world titles from IWA Mid-South (twice), Northeastern Ontario Wrestling, Juggalo Championship Wrestling, and the Funkdafied Wrestling Federation. He first won the IWA Mid-South title in a championship tournament, and he also collected wins in the Ted Petty Invitational,  the X-8 Tournament, and the Glory Cup Tournament.

Ian Rotten calls Kongo Kong the best big man he’s ever seen. Considering the ridiculous amount of talent that has come out of IWA Mid-South, that is a huge statement. Kongo Kong is young and hungry, and he is only getting better. He can overpower you with his size and strength, and he’s not afraid to get airborne. He’s a face to watch in 2016, and he is a name you will never forget.

You can follow Kongo Kong on Twitter @RealKongoKong, or follow him on Facebook.

Just don’t follow too closely; you might get hurt.

The Ted Petty Invitational Returns

The rumors you’ve heard are true.

Yes, IWA Mid-South is hardcore.

Yes, the fans live for blood and gore.

Yes, they were so violent back in the 90s, they were kicked out of Kentucky.

But if you think IWA Mid-South is all blood and guts, think again.

This Friday, IWA Mid-South is resurrecting the “other” tournament it is famous for, the Ted Petty Invitational. The tournament began in 2000 as a showcase for the best technical wrestlers in the world, and in 2002, it was named in memory of Ted Petty.

If you’ve never heard of Ted Petty or the tournament that bears his name, here’s a look at the participants from the 2002 edition.

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Pictured in this photo: Christopher Daniels, Jimmy Rave, Matt Stryker, Colt Cabana, Spyder Nate Webb, “Sick” Nick Mondo, M-Dogg 20 (Matt Cross), AJ Styles, Ace Steel, Chris Hero, BJ Whitmer, Tarek the Great and CM Punk.

Not pictured: “All That” Matt Murphy, “Kamikaze” Ken Anderson & Super Dragon.

Other past participants include Nova, Mike Quackenbush, Jerry Lynn, Chris Sabin, Sonjay Dutt, Nigel McGuinness, Samoa Joe, Matt Sydal, Hallowicked, Kevin Owens, Delirious, Davey Richards, Ricochet, Low Ki, Tracy Smothers, and Sami Callihan.

Not enough name dropping for you? How about Sara Del Ray (the woman behind NXT’s Four Horsewomen), Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Seth Rollins, Sami Zayn, and Daniel Bryan?

Yes, IWA is hardcore, but it is much, much more than that.

Some of the IWA Mid-South faithful say this year may prove to be the best tournament ever. With names like Kongo Kong, Chris Hero, Reed Bentley, Hy Zaya, Shane Mercer, and Masada on the card, they may be right.

The action kicks off Friday night at the Colgate Gym in Clarksville, Indiana. Click here to go to the event page for ticket information. 

You’re welcome.

New Champions with Louisville Roots

rybackThe man you see on the left here is former OVW star Silverback. Sunday night, he became the Intercontinental Champion for the first time. His photo is featured in Bluegrass Brawlers, but if you want to hear his full story, download Ryback’s appearance on the Chris Jericho podcast. It’s an inspiring tale of how he went from serving barbecue in Louisville to becoming a rising star. Ryback has come a long way with the fans as well, and it looks like his rise to the top is once again on track.

cropped-esw-cover.jpgRyback’s not the only Louisville talent to pick up new hardware Sunday. Hy Zaya, shown second from the left on the cover of Eat Sleep Wrestle, picked up the IWA Mid-South Heavyweight Championship off the seemingly unstoppable Kongo Kong. Hy Zaya is now carrying two belts: one from IWA Mid-South, and one from CCW in Evansville. Well deserved honors for the Hood Ninja.

Finally, congratulations to former IWA Mid-South King of the Deathmatch contestant Jon Moxley, who left Corpus Christi carrying the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt. Yes, even Dean Ambrose spent time in Louisville working for Ian Rotten back in the day. He may not have the belt in hand for long, considering another IWA Mid-South alum is still the legitimate champion, but it’s likely only a matter of time before it’s his free and clear.

Update: Per long time IWA Mid-South fan/ historian Nick Maniwa, Moxley did his work for IWA-MS in Illinois, not Louisville or Southern Indiana. Still, it’s a point of pride for the IWA-MS faithful that so many guys who worked in the long time indie promotion have made it to today’s WWE.