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Remembering IWA Mid-South

Even though I haven't followed the company too in-depth for several years, the news that IWA Mid-South is closing (for real this time) still makes me a little bit sad. Here are too many paragraphs explaining why.

I was a aware of IWAMS for years but didn't start following it until 2002. For several months, three midwest independent wrestlers who had been IWA regulars for awhile were getting more and more buzz among indy fahs: CM Punk, Colt Cabana, and Chris Hero. These three were considered especially unique because they were heavyweights in a indy world where smaller wrestlers like Low-Ki, Christopher Daniels, American Dragon, et al got the most attention (Samoa Joe turned in a good showing against Low-Ki during the APW King of the Indies tournament at the end of 2001 but didn't have much of a following yet). Hero had been a mainstay for the promotion ever since doing some training at their school. Punk and Cabana showed up around the Summer of 2000, and became regulars after an impressive performance that compelled Ian Rotten to invite them to come work at all IWA shows when they didn't have conflicting booking. Since they ran weekly, it was a good opportunity to gain experience.

After hearing about this CM Punk guy for awhile, I traded for what I told was a tape that was a good introduction to him: A 6 hour tape full of the best recent IWA matches. Most notably, it included Punk defending the IWA Heavyweight Title (I believe this was when he was also their light heavyweight champion in addition to holding the Mid-American Wrestling Heavyweight Title ; he carried all three belts with him) in a gauntlet match against Hero, Cabana, and (trainer of Punk & Cabana) Ace Steel in a match where he wrestled for 45 minutes. I was very impressed by the match, which was different from what the smaller wrestlers here in the northeast were doing, but the best was yet to come. The next night, Punk defended the heavyweight title against Hero in a tables & ladders match. They planned on going about 20 minutes. They went over 50. It wasn't the typical ladder match, as the first third of the bout was based around sold mat-wrestling. After Punk tombstoned Hero's comely (yet underage - her IWA run ended before her 18th birthday) valet Nadia Nyce off the ring apron through a table, it was hell on wheels, including some incredible (and sometimes dangerous) moves that took advantage of the tiny building's unique nature, like a side Russian legsweep off the balcony through a table and a chicken fight while hanging from the ceiling beam that the belt was hanging from. After this, I was hooked.

The first IWA tapes that I bought through official channels were back to back shows from May 3 & 4. 2002. The 2nd card, which took place in Dayton, Ohio, was the stuff of legend among IWA fans for years. In front of a tiny crowd of under 40 people, the fans were treated to Ian Rotten vs Chris Hero, Ace Steel (painted up as "Jewish Kamala" with the Star of David on his pecs) vs Vic Capri (2/3 falls), and CM Punk (wearing Ace Steel's tights) vs Colt Cabana (30 minute Iron Man Match). Rotten vs Hero proved to be especially memorable, as it was when fans started to take notice of Rotten as more than just a "garbage wrestler." Rotten (who was a strong amateur wrestler in his youth, attending a camp run by Dan Gable) and Hero had a hard hitting match full of realistic matwork (dubbed "dirtbag shootstyle" by some) and unique moments like Hero using duct tape to immobilize his injured knee. Rotten broke down crying after the match, promising Hero that he'd eventually be a big star.

Over the next 18 months, I bought as many tapes of IWA shows as I could. During the course of this, I often talked online with Hero, who gave me honest recommendations for which shows to pick up while we brainstormed uses for the three-quarter chancery, the cravate. I reall enjoyed the shows, which featured lighthearted commentary that often namedropped myself and other fans who were friendly with IWA talent. The deathmatches were often pretty good (by far the best in the US) and non-deathmatches featuring Corporal Robinson (who was quite the dynamo in straight matches in spite of his appearance and preferred style, to the point that Hero once told me "Corp could do Lucha if he really wanted to") and Necro Butcher proved to be surprisingly solid. Some wrestlers, like Adam Gooch, would show flashes of brilliance before falling off the face of the earth. Many wrestlers were improving rapidly before our eyes, like Alex Shelley. Todd Morton, a 15 year veteran previously best known for being a goofy looking fake Ricky Morton relative, re-invented himself as the second coming of his trainer, Bill Dundee. The much bragged about familial atmosphere seemed much more genuine than it would later, from an immensely fun 6 hour benefit show for the son of former IWA wrestler Delilah Star to the empty seat reserved for then-recently deceased fan "old man Charlie." There was a lot of good stuff.

There was also a lot of stuff that was strange, sleazy, or both. Some were lighthearted, like CM Punk blogging about Adam Gooch being caught in a lie by his two girlfriends. Some were very serious, like allegations by some wrestlers that the company lost its venue in Indianapolis because a disgrunted former IWA wrestler (who eventually returned) flyered the building with home-made pornography featuring him and his ex-girlfriend, who was an IWA talent. Some wondered if there was a point to things like Ian Rotten beating the hell out of Simon Sezz and then cutting a promo on him about his lack of dedication in training (there were similar incidents that were more clearly angles, like Rotten's match with Dysfunction a year earlier where Rotten "shot on him" to win the MAW title). Rotten booked Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer to team in IWA for the first time, only to lose, while they were ROH's tag team champions in a move that seemed designed to undermine the other promotion, and led to several performers quitting. Angles like Chris Hero's losing streak being caused by his tendency to overuse the cravate and pace his matches to go long didn't do much more than fuel the arguments of vehemently pro-ROH, anti-IWA fans who had been arguing that it made him a lousy worker. Meanwhile, the vehemently pro-IWA, anti-ROH fans would go all-out with comments about ROH pushing physiques like WWE, blinding them to the talent of Hero, then wearing a shirt and parachute pants without much of a physique; some made related comments pertaining to the sexual preferences of ROH management.

At any rate, I lost interest as the company became more like ROH in terms of "indy superstar" booking in 2004. . The uniqueness faded away. Sure, I'd check them out again when something like Samoa Joe vs Necro Butcher or Wargames happened, but that was about it. Then, as time went on, the company kept looking worse and worse, coming off more and more like carny con-artists at times (constantly threatening to shut down as a way to drive DVD sales) and bizarre backwoods psychos at others, like when several wrestlers and Rotten's son legitimately attacked Mike Levy (Google it, too much to explain here) in the ring, not to mention the odd blog postings of financial backer/manager Jim Fannin.

They lasted 13 years, served as a breeding ground for some good talent, and were entertaining as hell for both the right and wrong reasons a lot of the time. I'll miss them.

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