Absolute Intense Wrestling
Gauntlet for the Gold 7
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
AIW…. Absolute Intense Wrestling … a company who’s name gets butchered way too often. But underneath that banner is a particularly interesting brand of professional wrestling, even when it’s really, really good and even when it’s really, really not-so-good.
Gauntlet for the Gold has all that and more.
The seventh year of the Gauntlet features the 30 man massive battle royal type of match, bringing in a lot of AIW stalwarts, some guest stars from the “Wrestling Road Diaries 2” cast, and at least a few surprises.
On the ten match card, there’s a lot of what’s good about indy wrestling and a few instances of just insanity. Notably with Southside St. Clair – a wrestler dressed in a tie and adult diapers – there are some images that are just … well, embarrassing for any sensible viewer.
Some of the action on the undercard was slow-motion quality, and at times way to coordinated to be reasonable. I’m well aware of the indy venues and the talent levels and the creative aspects that turn off many of my fellow fans, and unfortunately there are those spots here.
Then again, there are flashes of brilliance and potential that has already put AIW on the map.
Yeah, we can debate the merits of the man known in TNA as Crimson, but he came from this promotion. We can debate the merits of Michael Carver, but he also came from this promotion. And we can definitely debate the merits and inspiration of Gregory Iron, who is also known a lot from this promotion.
Back when I first saw AIW, it was truly cutting edge visually, very dark, over-the-turnbuckle perspective, lots of factions and some interesting storylines.
Today, it’s more of a traditional indy promotion, with some top names of the circuit, a strong home-grown roster, and an interesting heel faction that tries to dominate things (Flexor Industries).
But one aspect that definitely needs highlighted is the announce crew.
Pedro Deluca is a solid lead announcer, and keeps the action explained, flowing and unified.
But Aaron Bauer on color is amazing.
There are some other guys that move in and out, but Bauer is a character of immediate impact. He’s over-the-top as a heel announcer, combining (in a perverse way) all the best aspects of Bobby Heenan, Gorilla Monsoon and Johnny Polo (yeah, Raven before he became Raven).
Bauer has to be heard to be believed. He can be naïve to the point of delusional and completely hysterical in his observances, and ultimately a suck-up kind of heel (as if a photo negative of Monsoon’s babyface approach), with the word-play expected of the Heenan level of genius, and with a popular culture and annoyance in an ongoing but not overly abrasive fashion like the aforementioned Polo.
There were times early on where I was all but losing interest in the action, but Bauer kept me enthralled.
He provides one of those truly creative characters that breaks the mold of what we see today, and that there are some tangible connections to guys of the past hits home the fact that the biggest annoyance of the current wrestling scene is that there is no ability of creative types to review what worked and build off of it.
Whatever Bauer’s doing, however he’s creating it, it is something to enjoy.
(more of that later)
We open with a series of promos about the Gauntlet for the Gold. First up was a guy from the Wrestling Road Diaries 2 – Cliff Compton – who was 1980’s era awesome, channeling Randy Savage and a Southern style energy.
The montage of promos set the stage for high expectations, providing glimpses of wrestlers and various levels of talent.
The first glimpse of Southside St. Clair was … well, odd but interesting.
Some of the guys have great potential and some of the names I knew (like Iron) came across well. This guy ACH has a sort of Jon Jones vibe, and a slightly different approach. I loved how they played up some feuds, some conflicts and some expectations. I would have loved to see some graphics to connect faces and names, which was the only gripe at this point.
The Submission Squad vs Da Latin Crime Syndicate
This was bad. Awful. Too many contrived spots, and stereo spot comedy is bad at best, but in triplicate? Six simultaneous eye-pokes? Wow.
I’ve seen some of the Crime Syndicate and these guys are old hands, but the Squad guys just don’t have anything resembling a look, and the “Submission” aspect was obviously opener quality comedy. There’s a guy on the Syndicate – K Fernandez, who could be El Generico’s cousin, by mask, beard and body type. But there’s a guy on the Squad that looks like he’s Fernandez’s brother, sans mask.
At least Bauer brought that up.
Also, I’m all for body shapes and sizes, but 2/3 of these guys didn’t belong in the ring without a shirt.
Colin Delaney vs Marion Fontaine
This was the Aaron Bauer hour.
Marion Fontaine (of the magic moustache) is a definitive talent. He’ll never appear in the WWE, and TNA would be insanely opportunistic to bring him in to feud with Eric Young, but the reality is that some guys have a quintessential ability to perform, despite a look and shape that will immediately disqualify them to the mainstream decision makers.
Delaney hearkens back to the WWE ECW debacle. He was the jobber to the stars that got a bit of popularity (if at all provable), and while he’s called and extremely cute wrestler, there’s an odd vibe that he’s a veteran of that other ECW and that era is frighteningly long ago.
Delaney hit the ring with a crutch and a soft cast on his leg.
Clever opening with that crutch.
From there, the comedy reigned, but more so from the commentating. Bauer was gold here. While I cringed at the awful displays of selling a leg, there’s nothing to describe the sheer hilarity of Bauer talking about how Delaney had his leg amputated, and Fontaine had his leg cut off during the match, and tying in allusions to Gregory Iron as well.
I mean, it was over the top, often insensitive, but there’s nothing to a dead-pan delivery of talking about something that CLEARLY IS NOT TRUE, and not breaking character while doing it.
Pedro Deluca’s straight man delivery was equally priceless.
When must see is arguably awful wrestling to get to the commentary, that says something.
Eric Ryan vs Kobald vs Ophidian
Hated the setup, starting off as Ryan vs Ophidian, then they go backstage and come back with Kobald and it becomes a three-way. (Bauer questions the rules of the match to great comedic insight).
Also questioned how Ryan was pushed as having submitted Rickey Shane Page… Didn’t see that, but top name submitting to a cruiserweight?
But these guys bring up the workrate by millions. Ryan is a tough, credible talent, and there’s never a knock on CHIKARA talent on any level.
Intense Title: Bobby Beverly (Champ) vs Colt Cabana
Merely a backdrop for a tag match, and an intro to Flexor Industries. That faction is headed by Chest Flexor (yeah, that bad), but he leads Beverly (solid looking talent) and “The Chad” (Think Crimson, but more preppy and skinnier) among others. Flexor Industries also has Shiima Xion, the now TNA guy, who is the Absolute Champion here.
Colt Cabana is … Colt Cabana
Nothing match where Flexor Industries jumps Cabana quickly, only to be saved by Southside St. Clair, who can only really save the day by introducing Cliff Compton & Luke Gallows.
Gallows is known by many names, but here appears with a crutch (torn groin) and some talk about pain pills which Bauer plays up hysterically but rather in a bad taste, all things considered.
(Who’s watching his bags?)
The ensuing tag team match is the kind of feel good, guest star deal as expected.
If you’re a fan of the Highspots DVD, this will appeal, and there’s something to Compton that screams of James Storm, but in a good way.
Tim Donst vs BJ Whitmer
This is a solid match, and Whitmer is on the comeback trail. He looks rather old in the face, but physically strong. I kept trying to gauge the size between the two…. Tim Donst is gold, and comes across with an attitude and arrogance that screams Kurt Angle (without the Gold Medal, of course) and he can carry himself and others.
Donst on the mike is very, very good.
They play up a previous match, and Donst isn’t quite a tweener, but more so the guy who Flexor Industries is courting, but likely doesn’t have in their pocket.
That plays up in the post match a bit….
The Irish Airborne vs The Sex Bob-ombs
Jake and Dave Crist are undersized, ROH veterans, who are top-notch talents. One of the brothers is going all metal/punk while the other isn’t (I think there is a feud going on in another promotion).
Davey Vega I’ve seen, as well as Matt Fitchett, and “Bob-ombs” is an alliteratively brilliant name, even if it’s from the Mario video game series. These guys are solid as well.
Good match, and the Airborne do a lot of flying.
They are set up for a match against AIW Tag Team Champions Aeroform, and get jumped by the Flexor Industries Champs for their victory present. But AIW boss Matt Wadsworth won’t let Aeroform get out of a scheduled Title Defense, and brings in Youthanazia (the long time team of Matt Cross & Josh Prohibition) as challengers.
Aeroform vs Youthanazia
Skip & Flip are high flying heels here, taking on a faction of what I believe are heels, but Matt Cross is bigger than life even though he’s apparently not Tough Enough.
Pretty strong match, and it meets expectations.
Uhaa Nation vs ACH vs Rickey Shane Page vs Façade
Night and day from opener to top match (underneath the Gauntlet), in terms of talent, workrate and potential. Uhaa Nation is one incredible talent, looking enough like Ahmad Johnson, but able to do leapfrogs, planchas and fly. Unfortunately, that frame isn’t built for that sort of impact, but this guy is a player.
ACH is a guy from St. Louis… Not too keen on the name, but this guy hands with the best of AIW, and in Uhaa Nation, a world class athlete. ACH is making a name in the Northern Ohio area, and may make waves elsewhere. He’s billed as “The Last Dragon” and he has an intensity and an athleticism that cannot be denied.
RSP used to be “Christian Faith” and while he’s on a losing streak, he’s still an impressive figure in the AIW. Façade has a great look, great gimmick, great high-flyer.
The action here is what puts AIW on the map.
Action plus strong, solid wrestlers who are developing their talents in and out of the ring. What impresses me about AIW is that, even when some aspects are a little weak, the card is well structured and the result is memorable matches and spots, and not the same-old, same-old that repeats on most indy cards.
30 Man Gauntlet for the Gold
90 seconds between competitors, which seemed consistent, but I’m not sooo sure.
The problem with a big match like this is that there needs to be surprises and guests and dynamics for the middle part of it. I won’t say this was bad, but there seemed to be some segments where nothing was really happening, and guys were more into pushing or trying to toss each other out than anything else. Which on one hand is what this thing is all about, but on the other hand, there are plenty of opportunities for spots and making eliminations meaningful.
I really didn’t get Gregory Iron in and out in 30 seconds, other than to mock the WWE for not giving him that chance.
BJ Whitmer got a long stint, but then he seemed to be unceremoniously dumped.
A lot of the intrigue was surrounding Flexor Industries, as they wanted to earn the title shot, then give Xion the night off. That was a clever story, and obviously getting that heel angle quashed part of the enjoyment of the fans, but for a dominant faction, there was way too much disorganization.
Then again, the Tim Donst thing played into it as well.
The super-surprise was the return of Cleveland’s biggest indy superstar, Johnny Gargano.
Which was played up well even though they protected him just as much.
What impressed me with this DVD was the tying in of AIW to Cleveland’s traditions, and the return to Turner Hall (billed as “Cleveland’s ECW Arena”) was well handled throughout. They played up the venue, played up the heritage of pro wrestling, and honored the late, great JT Lightning as the man who made Cleveland All Pro Wrestling such a notable promotion, and who gave credibility to Turner Hall, which AIW is trying to capture.
The matches were a bit uneven, but AIW still touts a lot of top notch talent, a lot of notable names and a lot of potential. Like most indies – but better – AIW brings out the passion, creativity and talent of its wrestlers, and has earned a spot on the top of the indy rotation.
But above all, if you want to enjoy a fresh, new color commentator, give a listen to Aaron Bauer.
He’s the kind of voice that could bring life to a lot of mainstream pro wrestling promotions.