Choosing Sides: Ohio-Based AIW Takes the Fight To TNA
Less than a year after declaring war against World Wrestling Entertainment, the professional wrestling industry's second-string quarterback Total Nonstop Action Wrestling now finds itself immersed in another battle.
This time, however, TNA is riding in the front seat, representing the bigger soldier in the war.
At least it seems that way.
Apparently TNA President Dixie Carter and her compatriots, possibly including nominees for "2010 Company Killers of the Year" Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff, have finally started listening to the complaints and criticisms of fans, critics and even homegrown stars that the company needs to develop new stars rather than relying on WWE midcard castaways.
While this may seem like good news for TNA fans—and those who so desperately want an alternative to WWE programming—this decision has begun to wreak havoc on the American independent scene.
One company, Ohio-based Absolute Intense Wrestling, isn't taking TNA's new approach laying down.
Apparently several of that promotion's top stars have been offered TNA contracts in recent weeks. The promoter, or at least the person who manages the company's Facebook page, has been launching a string of written attacks against the company for this raid, and even called the performers who have accepted the deals "sell outs."
Some people have called out the promotion on the fact it has heavily promoted four of its alumni, and those four have gone on to appear in WWE to varying degrees of success.
These men include NXT Season One contestant Michael Tarver, Daniel Bryan (who appeared at AIW shows during his "release" period from WWE), Kaval and NXT Season Four rookie Derrick Bateman.
But AIW officials had their response ready to share on Facebook. In a status comment, they posted the following (with grammar corrected):
"TNA is not advancing a career. Have you watched their product? MULTIPLE guys on our roster and staff have been offered deals in the last week, so you can understand our frustrations."
"If it was WWE, we would be in full support. That is a life-changing opportunity. TNA is just a move in a lateral direction, going from being part of a rapidly growing company to whatever TNA is—a wasteland of fedjects."
Some details remain to be seen, including who the now-TNA contracted wrestlers are, and just how much of the AIW rantings and ravings are a work. But one thing is for certain, this small Ohio promotion has brought some additional attention to itself, just in time for its final show of the year, Nightmare Before X-Mas 4.
AIW is a quality indy promotion. I haven't followed them very long and have really only seen one weekend's worth of shows (this year's Jack of All Trios tournament) and a specialty DVD (the best of Hailey Hatred), as well as their web video series, but I can speak to the credibility, quality and general professionalism of the promotion and it's management.
While writing for another website and planning to start my own online radio show, I had several e-mail conversations with the company's promoter, who was always willing to accommodate any requests. Commitments outside of wrestling journalism have led to my departure from the daily writing routines, but I've continued to follow AIW news and updates.
This latest one comes as a bit of a shock to me.
Now, let me make it clear. It's not shocking in the least that AIW performers are being offered contracts by one of the perceived "Big Two" companies. They have plenty of talented stars who could shine in WWE, TNA or even ROH—under the right circumstances.
With a concept like NXT, many of these guys would have a chance to showcase their skills to a large audience and attempt to build a fanbase. It didn't work so well for Tarver, and it's still too early to tell Bateman's fate, but anything's possible.
ROH is in the midst of a youth movement, pushing new stars like Kyle O'Reilly and Adam Cole and trying to get fans behind an up-and-comer like Andy Ridge. Success could easily be found for many AIW performers.
That brings us to TNA. Like AIW's Facebook comments suggest, moving from a promotion like AIW and heading to TNA may be little more than a lateral move, if not a complete downgrade.
Yes, TNA has a national television deal. Yes, TNA has a national touring schedule. Yes, TNA has high-quality wrestlers on its roster.
No, TNA does not have room or the motivation to push new talent, and those who have never received a paycheck signed by a representative of the McMahon empire.
TNA's roster is so crowded right now that there's really no room for new talent to develop, grow and ultimately succeed. The only recent addition to the roster who didn't come from the WWE is the thus-far-televised reigning X Division Champion.
You may be saying, "Well, that's not so bad, he's a champion." If this is the case, stop and remind yourself that he's also got a gimmick with no real heat, plenty of the go-away kind, and despite being a highly talented wrestler, he's already the bane of existence for many TNA fans because of the awful gimmick he's been saddled with.
How sad would it be to see someone with the talent of Johnny Gargano, Tommy Mercer, Shawn Schultz or Facade being saddled with one of these horrid gimmicks and shoved down the audience's throats to the point they want nothing more than for these personas to disappear from their television sets?
AIW has said they can't reveal the performer who has been signed, but that person will have a chance to speak at the show Friday night. They've said it's not the obvious choice, which in my estimation would be their champion Gargano.
Fans should hope not, because losing Gargano would screw more than AIW, as he's become a key player in several other indy federations as well. Gargano replaced Gran Akuma in FIST over in CHIKARA and has just formed the trio of Ronin with Rich Swann and Chuck Taylor in Dragon Gate USA. He has a bright wrestling future and doesn't need to wallow in a lost existence in TNA.
I'm not going to speculate who else may be leaving, as I don't have any insider information into the matter, but whoever it is, I just hope they don't regret the decision six months from now.
In a mere couple of hours, the battle between AIW and TNA has reached a level of intensity that the WWE/TNA "war" from January failed to achieve.
Let's just hope that whatever happens works out best for everyone involved. AIW will surely recover from whatever loses they endure, and let's hope they do so while maintaining a strong sense of professionalism.
The Ohio fans are clearly on AIW's side, and that's right where pride belongs. When TNA can demonstrate an ability to use rising indy stars appropriately and make new superstars, these feelings will be vanquished.
Until then, I'm putting my support with the "underdog."
Testa is a semi-retired professional wrestling journalist. He is an occassional contributor to Bleacher Report and Pro Wrestling Zeitgeist. He is still better than you.
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