Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five is finally here. In 2022 I was lucky enough to be ringside with my camera for 236 matches across five different promotions in the state of Iowa. Iowa is a treasure trove of exciting independent wrestling. 

Each promotion in the state brings a unique identity to the pro wrestling scene. For the past three weeks, I’ve been counting down the 20 best/favorite matches of mine from 2022. 

Today we finish the countdown with the top five. The best thing about these five matches is the story each one told inside and outside the squared circle. Each is well deserving of a top-five spot, and if given the opportunity, fans should check each one out.

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five
#5 – Absolute Pro Wrestling: Gold Rush
APW Championship Ladder Match
Matty Star vs Ethan Everheart

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Photo @TagTeamPhotographyDYE

Sometimes in pro wrestling, just like in life, the bad guys win. Such was the case when Absolute Pro Wrestling held its biggest event of 2022. It was a historic night as the first-year promotion crowned their very first champion in one Matty Star. 

The seeds of Star’s championship victory were planted months earlier during APW’s very first show. That night, Star put everyone in the APW locker room on notice when he viciously attacked Jimmy Wylde to begin the show. 

With Wylde unable to compete, APW promoter Jason Prentice changed the main event to Matty Star versus Ethan EverheartOn this night, Everheart, the hometown Waterloo, Iowa boy, had his hand raised in victory. 

A couple of months later, four men were paired off to see who would punch their ticket to Gold Rush to become the very first APW Champion. Star defeated long-time friend and veteran “Delicious” Devin Carter, and Everheart defeated one of the very best in Iowa, AJ Smooth. 

With the main event for the Gold Rush set, Jason Prentice added a little fuel to the fire, announcing the first-ever APW Champion would be determined in a ladder match. 

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five
#5 – Matty Star vs Ethan Everheart

Matty Star entered as only Matty Star can enter. Ready and willing to embrace all the hate the APW fans can dish out. If you’ve seen a Matty Star entrance, you know the feelings are mutual for the “Role Model.”

Everheart made his way out second, and this was a fully focused Ethan Everheart. There was no wild sprint to the ring. No, this Everheart, while still energetic, was there for one purpose. 

Becoming the very first APW Champion in front of his hometown crowd. With the APW Championship hanging above them, the two met in the middle of the ring. Embracing the moment, Star used this as one last opportunity to get inside the head of the younger Everheart. 

His mind games didn’t phase Everheart as he sent the veteran reeling with a flurry of offense. An early highlight reel moment came when Everheart dove over the top rope to the outside onto Star. It didn’t take long for the ladder to come into play as a vicious weapon. 

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The two slammed the ladder onto each other before slamming themselves onto the ladder numerous times. A scary moment came when Everheart was pulled off the ladder, and he landed awkwardly in the ring. 

Late in the match, both men found themselves perched atop two ladders. Throwing caution to the wind, Everheart hit a Rock Bottom, sending Star crashing into a ladder that had been laid between the first ladder and the ropes. 

The end came when Everheart was mere inches away from grabbing the Championship, but a certain monster wasn’t going to let that happen. As Everheart made one final attempt at grabbing the gold, Lars Metzger pulled him down from the ladder. 

A spear through a door by Metzger allowed Matty Star to make the monster-assisted climb to the gold. With the enraged Waterloo fans watching on, Matty Star walked out with the APW Title on his shoulder. The Star era of Absolute Pro Wrestling had begun. 

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five
#4 – Madhouse Wrestling
Madhouse Wrestling Championship Match
1 Called Manders vs AJ Smooth

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Photo @TagTeamPhotographyDYE

The first main event of a promotion’s debut show needs to be memorable. It needs to leave a lasting impression with the fans who are there for the first time, expecting something great. 

The first main event has to embody what the promotion will become. It’s safe to say the very first main event in Madhouse Wrestling history achieved all of this. 1 Called Manders versus AJ Smooth was the final match in a four-man tournament to crown the first-ever Madhouse Champion. 

Earlier in the night, Smooth earned a semifinal victory over longtime rival James Jeffries. Meanwhile, the Cornbelt Cowboy won a contrast in styles with the “Monarch ” Jeremy Wyatt. The crowning of the first Madhouse Champion had it all. 

Solid technical wrestling, vintage barroom brawling, a plethora of weapons at each competitor’s disposal, blood, brutality, and an iconic finish. It set the bar high for any Madhouse main event to follow.

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five
#4 –  1 Called Manders vs AJ Smooth

With a ring full of what the late great Dusty Rhodes would call plunder, AJ Smooth made his way out first. Smooth, who holds no love for the fans, met their boos with taunts and jeers of his own. 

His confidence at a high level after dispatching an old foe earlier in the show. As soon as “I’m a cowboy on a steel horse I ride” echoed through the Countryside Wedding and Events Center in Knoxville, Iowa, the Madhouse fans erupted. 

Referee Jon G hoisted the belt above his head while the Mean Gene of Madhouse, David Chiarini, introduced the competitors. There was a big fight feel, and Manders and Smooth delivered. 

After a brief stint in the ring, the fight spilled ringside. Punches were thrown, beer was spat, and kendo sticks were used, much to the delight of the Madhouse faithful. Smooth put a steel chair to good use after tossing it directly into Manders face. 

The combination of a steel chair and a trash can lid led to a bloody Boss of the Plains. Tasting his own blood fired up Manders, and the former Iowa Hawkeye speared Smooth through a door. With momentum on his side, Manders picked up the violence by introducing a staple gun into the match. 

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The image of a bloody Manders holding up the staple gun serving as an iconic Madhouse moment. Manders may have regretted bringing the staple gun after it was used against him by Smooth. 

Late in the match, the two put each other through a table. First, Smooth suplexed Manders through one propped in the corner of the ring. Then, Manders hit his patented running power slam through a table resting in the opposite corner. 

Neither led to a three-count. Both men were exhausted from an epic confrontation, and the finish was spectacular. After surviving a power slam through two doors stacked on chairs, Smooth picked up the win with a powerbomb through a door wrapped in barbed wire. 

As the boo’s rained down on him, a battered AJ Smooth accepted the Madhouse Championship. Yet another iconic Madhouse moment. 

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five
#3 – SCWPro: The Harvest
Mask vs Hair Match
Latin Thunder vs Corn Boi

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Photo @TagTeamPhotographyDYE

Known as Thunder Corn, Latin Thunder and Corn Boi carved out a winning legacy as a team in SCWPro. The powerfully athletic veteran Thunder, combined with the frenetic high-flying attack of Corn Boi, led them to numerous tag team championship reigns. 

Over the past year, a divide slowly started to form between the partners. After losing the tag team titles, Latin Thunder felt that maybe Corn Boi needed to get more serious when stepping in the ring. 

Numerous failed attempts at winning back the tag team titles led to Latin Thunder ending their partnership. His massive choke slam on Corn Boi made the split even more personal. 

The two were scheduled to compete at a pair of SCWPro shows, but each time, Latin Thunder exited early. Fed up with his shenanigans, SCWPro officials scheduled the match for SCWPro: Harvest and Latin Thunder had no choice but to face his former partner.

A feud like this wasn’t going to end with a regular singles match. This was deserving of so much more. This needed a lucha libre tradition, Máscara contra cabellera. The mask versus hair match has been used in lucha libre for decades. 

It is the ultimate way to settle the most intense grudges. Latin Thunder’s mask was part of him for over a decade, and putting it on the line meant everything to him. Corn Boi not only had his long locks on the line, but a second stipulation was added, putting his entire persona up for grabs. 

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five
#3 – Latin Thunder vs Corn Boi

The Blue Grass crowd was more than ready for this main event. SCWPro wrestlers had made their way out of the locker room, just as intrigued as the fans. They were about to witness a match that will live forever in SCWPro lore. 

Thunder, who entered first wearing a black and gold sombrero along with a silver cape, looked like a million bucks. He made his way around the ring, taking in the surroundings in what could be his final match wearing his iconic mask. 

After Corn Boi entered like only he can, Thunder wasted no time, attacking his former partner before the bell. Ripping his former partner’s own mask off, let his young protege know he was all business on this night. 

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Even with as personal as this feud had become, most of this match took place in the ring. Thunder strength and power, exemplified by a devastating power slam, being countered by Corn Boi’s aerial expertise, including a flying drop kick from the top turnbuckle. 

The battle led to a pair of breathtaking near falls. Corn Boi got a close two count after hitting his choke slam, and Thunder’s came from his top rope Frankensteiner. The latter was Latin Thunder’s best shot, and Corn Boi had survived it. 

A second choke slam followed by a roll-up gave Corn Boi the 1-2-3. The entire Blue Grass Community Hall stood and cheered in appreciation as an emotional Latin Thunder removed his mask. 

With a tear in his eye, Juan Fourneau, the man behind the mask – handed the symbol of luchador excellence – something he’d worn for nearly a decade, over to his former partner and friend. 

After an emotional embrace by the two, Fourneau thanked the crowd, thanked Corn Boi, and thanked SCWPro for being part of such an important moment in his career. A truly memorable ending to one of SCWPro’s most emotional matches. 

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five
#2 – Central Empire Wrestling: Bridge City Slam
Retirement Match
Storm Thomas vs Austin Bayliss

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Photo @TagTeamPhotographyDYE

To say the history between Storm Thomas and Austin Bayliss runs deep would be an understatement. Bayliss was the man who persuaded Thomas into giving pro wrestling a try. 

Thomas, the former William Penn University football player, gave it a go and was a natural. The two trained together, and it was off to the races for Storm Thomas. Over the years, Thomas was able to travel the country wrestling for various promotions, all the while carrying the banner for Central Empire Wrestling. 

In 2018, Storm Thomas won the Cauliflower Alley Club Men’s Wrestling Award and eventually earned a try-out with the WWE. Storm Thomas also competed on AEW Dark before deciding in 2022 that after a decade plus in the ring, it was time to hang up his boots. 

With his decision made, there was only one place to have his final match, Central Empire Wrestling. His opponent could be no one else but CEW promoter Austin Bayliss. Something Storm Thomas announced during CEW Legendary Series 1. 

After his singles match with the Beer City Bruiser, Thomas took to the mic in front of a jam-packed Pioneer Farms crowd. He called Bayliss to the ring and told him his plans to retire after Bridge City Slam IV.

There was no one else he was willing to step into the ring with one last time than the man who brought him into the business. Hesitantly, Bayliss accepted, and the two sealed the deal with a hug. 

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five
#2 – Storm Thomas vs Austin Bayliss

The Bridge View Center in Ottumwa was ready for this. A Storm chant burst out during the former CEW Champions’ entrance. Which countered the Bayliss chant that welcomed his opponent to the ring before him. 

Adding even more emotion to the proceedings was Evan Jordan – a long-time CEW fan favorite and a guy who came up with Thomas – serving as referee. Bayliss’ hesitation was apparent during the initial lockup. 

Something Storm Thomas quickly realized so he began to verbally challenge Bayliss. Claiming that Bayliss began this, and now it was time for him to end it. A slap to the face of Bayliss brought the fight out of CEW’s head honcho. 

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Photo @TagTeamPhotographyDYE

The drama was high in this old-school wrestling match. Hip tosses were traded, suplexes were given, and they even brawled around the ringside area. Late in the match, Thomas hit his picture-perfect spinebuster one last time for the CEW faithful. 

The two friends took the crowd on an emotional roller coaster. A roller coaster that came to an end when Bayliss hit a power slam from the top turnbuckle for the final three count of Storm Thomas’ in-ring career. 

After taking a second to compose himself, a teary-eyed Storm Thomas removed his boots and left them in the ring. He grabbed the mic and thanked his family, the fans, Central Empire Wrestling, and Austin Bayliss. 

The three CEW legends embraced before Bayliss and Jordan exited, allowing Storm Thomas to soak it all in one last time. 

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five
#1 – SCWPro: EPIC Night 2
SCWPro Iowa Championship Match
JT Energy vs Marek Brave

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Photo @TagTeamPhotographyDYE

Once upon a time, Marek Brave, with JT Energy and the Frontman Jah C by his side, terrorized SCWPro. Known as the Fashionista, Brave took the two Black & Brave graduates under his wing, and the group eventually held all the gold in SCWPro. 

The trio looked to be a top SCWPro for years to come, but a neck injury seemingly ended Brave’s in-ring career in 2017. No longer competing, Brave began focusing his time behind the scenes of SCWPro. 

The continued development of the promotion, along with running the Black and Brave Wrestling Academy, kept Brave connected to the business. Meanwhile, JT Energy went on his own reign of terror. 

Splitting away in violent fashion from his “Vicious and Delicious” tag team with Jah C, Energy became one of the most hated wrestlers on the SCWPro roster. In 2022, with his new enforcer Augustus Draven by his side, Energy’s actions reached a despicable level. 

So much so that Marek Brave had to step in numerous times to ward off the “Unsolved Mistery.” Braves interjections didn’t sit well with Energy, who viciously assaulted him at SCWPro Hawkamania XXII: I Don’t Wanna Be in Love.

His patented scissor kick to the surgically repaired neck left the SCWPro in utter disbelief. At the following SCWPro event, Energy berated a neck brace-wearing Brave, telling him that he warned him not to stick his nose in Energy’s business. 

By night’s end, though, Brave revealed the brace was a ruse before he assaulted Energy. He also announced that at EPIC Night 2, it would be JT Energy defending the Iowa Championship against Marek Brave in an Iowa City Street Fight. 

Top 20 Independent Matches of 2022 – The Top Five
#1 – Marek Brave vs JT Energy

EPIC Night 2 arrived, and after five years, Brave was ready to step in the ring once again. Energy entered first, feeding off the SCWPro fans’ hatred. Then Brave’s music hit, and the Wildwood Saloon erupted. 

Taking his time to enter the ring, Brave was not only playing mind games with his protege but was also taking in this monumental moment. Showing he hadn’t missed a step, Brave dominated early, much to the delight of the SCWPro fans. 

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Photo @TagTeamPhotographyDYE

The fight quickly left the ring, and the two rivals fought all across the Wildwood Saloon. Energy was body slammed on the hardwood floor near the bar before Brave sprayed him with some adult beverages. 

When they got back to the ringside area, Brave made a Shawn Michaels-like leap from the top turnbuckle onto Energy and Draven on the floor. A plethora of weapons were introduced into the match, from kendo sticks, to steel chairs, and a crutch. 

Energy even brought a ladder into the match but ultimately received the worst from a suplex from the top of the ladder through a table. Things took a turn for the extreme when Energy brought out a staple gun and proceeded to staple dollar bills to Brave’s shoulder and forehead. 

This attack fired up Brave, who seemed to be closing in on the victory when Augustus Draven intervened. Draven brought zip ties to the ring and the nefarious duo tied Brave up to the ring ropes. 

Taunting the SCWPro Hall of Famer, Energy brandished the chair he used long ago to break up his former team with the Frontman Jah C. At the mercy of his foes, all seemed lost for Brave when Jah C’s music echoed throughout the Wildwood Saloon. 

The fans erupted as the Frontman made his way to the ring. Their euphoria quickly soured when Jah embraced his former Vicious and Delicious partner. Everyone in attendance was stunned; the feeling was similar to Hulk Hogan joining the New World Order. 

But, in an EPIC swerve, Jah C blasted Augustus Draven with a chair before delivering a pair of chair shots to JT Energy. It was poetic justice at its finest seeing Jah C wield the same chair that ended Vicious and Delicious.

A super kick from Jah followed by an even more devastating one from Brave, and SCWPro had crowned a new Iowa Champion. Marek Brave was officially back, and he topped off the iconic SCWPro moment by inviting his sons into the ring with him to celebrate the emotionally charged victory.

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Photo @TagTeamPhotographyDYE

So there you have it, the top 20 best and my favorite matches from 2022. Looking forward to seeing what 2023 brings and the great matches that are sure to come.

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