I’ve never been less interested in the US indies than I currently am.

Granted, I’m watching less wrestling in 2020 than I have in eight years, and eight years ago I was just coming out of a wrestling hiatus. I am the busiest I’ve ever been and wrestling is the first hobby that has been cut down due to real-life responsibilities. When I find time to sit down in front of a screen and kill time, it’s more often than not Dragon Gate, as I still enjoy their product more than just about anything in the world. I catch big New Japan main events, occasionally I’ll be at home on a Wednesday to catch Dynamite, and I still track down any Strong Hearts match that makes tape. I’ve had to cut everything else out. 

It certainly doesn’t help that the US indies are in the state that they’re in. I certainly don’t condone the mass-hiring practices that WWE has instituted, but whether it’s fair or not, I resent a lot of indies for the way they’ve handled the talent exodus. I have no time for and have certainly lost all patience for shows headlined by Joey Ryan, intergender debacles, or matches worked in the name of irony. The only company I can turn to for independent wrestling that doesn’t insult my intelligence is luckily my hometown promotion: AAW. 

AAW is the only promotion on my radar right now that is constantly pushing new talent into the spotlight while having a respectable, old-school feel to them. AAW doesn’t feel like one, big inside joke. I’m able to weasel my way into a packed Logan Square Auditorium on a monthly basis for wrestling that truly matters in its own universe. 

AAW isn’t without its detractors.

Any promotion that mainly revolves around Sami Callihan (and one Crist brother) is going to turn a lot of people off. Callihan, when he’s at his best, is able to create an incredibly unique live atmosphere. Being in the building for a heated Callihan match feels like nothing else in wrestling. There are people that really hate Callihan, and there are people that (somehow) proudly rep their Ohio is 4 Killers gear. The contrast in vocal reactions to Callihan speaks to AAW’s creative abilities. Sami Callihan matters to that crowd. The same can be said for Ace Romero, PACO, and the Besties in the World. Names that might not jump off the page to an onlooker or to someone that follows their work in other promotions. In AAW, however, they are stars. It’s a testament to their booking that I really fucking care about what Davey Vega does on a monthly basis. 

Their show this Friday is yet another example of AAW being at the top of their game, creatively. Mance Warner will be returning to the promotion after shocking the AAW faithful and winning the AAW World Championship at their December event. Given the circumstances of how Warner won the belt, capitalizing on a Josh Alexander open challenge after his scheduled opponent no-showed the event, Warner’s next feud remains a mystery, but after Friday, we’ll have an idea of where he’s headed next. A four-way match between Josh Briggs, Jordan Oliver, Hakim Zane, and Fred Yehi will decide Warner’s opponent for March. 

I was in the building for Jordan Oliver’s AAW debut. He stuck out immediately as someone that could easily thrive in this promotion. Oliver and the rest of his Young, Dumb, & Broke as Fuck cronies have taken the Special K act from Sapolsky-era ROH and updated it to modern times. Oliver is far from being a finished product. For his sake as a worker, I hope he stays on the indies for an extended period. He’s not at the level of anyone currently wrestling on TV, but the act he’s cultivated is as fresh and contemporary as anything on my radar in wrestling. 

I recently reached out to someone about Hakim Zane’s work in Impact Wrestling as Rohit Raju and was disappointed to find out that his act is widely panned and considered one of the worst things happening in that company, as his work in AAW has been top-notch. I am almost always against independent wrestlers taking an anti-darling, anti-Internet stance when their personas because that feels tired and old, but Zane and his muscle, Karam, are a needed shot of intensity and adrenaline on the AAW card. As it stands currently, Zane is AAW’s Heritage Champion. I don’t see him challenging for a shot at two belts anytime soon. 

That leaves Briggs and Yehi. Briggs is big and intimidating, but his work is often more bark than bite. Yehi, on the other hand, is someone who I heralded as one of the 10 best wrestlers in the world in the spring of 2017. By the fall of 2017, I had labeled him a disappointment, and a year later, he was off the map entirely. Yehi’s return to AAW last month saw him align himself with Jimmy Jacobs in a move that could help redirect Yehi’s career in a positive way. Yehi seems like the right man for the job. A win here for Yehi gives him some direction for the first time since Gabe had faith in him in EVOLVE and it furthers the now year-plus story they’ve been telling with Mance Warner and Jimmy Jacobs. 

AAW’s special attractions at The Art of War show style-diversity in the most drastic of ways. TJP returns to battle ACH in his home promotion. The last time these two wrestled each other, Davey Richards and Kyle O’Reilly were still allowed to wrestle in St. Louis. On the same card, Matthew Justice, fresh off a stint in Japan, will do battle with Nick Gage. ACH and TJP will have a scientific battle that only those two are capable of pulling off, while Gage and Justice will have you questioning whether or not these men actually believe in science (or head trauma). Wrestling can be a beautiful thing. 

Elsewhere on the card, the Besties in the World defend the tag titles against Myron Reed and wrestling’s best-unsigned talent, AR Fox, AEW’s Kris Statlander defends her gold against Jody Threat, and the presence of two of wrestling’s brightest prospects, Travis Titan and Benjamin Carter, should have people buzzing with excitement. 

The fact is I have very little time for wrestling and very little patience for nonsense in wrestling. AAW is the only American promotion I can consistently turn to and the only indie across the globe that isn’t going to waste my time. In a time where indies are hanging on by a thread thanks to mass talent exoduses, AAW is not only surviving, they’re thriving both creatively and in the ring. 

AAW’s The Art of War takes place at Chicago’s Logan Square Auditorium on Friday, February 21. Tickets can be purchased here.