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Coping with Covid in Cleveland: John Thorne, AIW Wrestling

Coping with Covid in Cleveland: John Thorne, AIW Wrestling

Kevin Naughton

After thousands of confirmed cases and hundreds of deaths in Ohio, people are (hopefully) staying at home to help protect each other from the spread of COVID-19. We checked in with various Clevelanders to see how they’re holding up and how the pandemic has affected them and their organizations.

John Thorne is the founder, owner, and operator of Absolute Intense Wrestling (AIW), Cleveland’s premier independent professional wrestling promotion company. Since you can’t exactly chokeslam somebody through a folding table while social distancing, we reached out for an inside scoop on how the independent wrestling world has been impacted by the statewide COVID-19 shutdown.

Q: How has COVID-19 and Ohio’s general shutdown affected you and your line of work?
A: Well, my line of work is entertainment and like many other forms of entertainment we have experienced a rough road these last few weeks. To start, AIW had to officially cancel/postpone five upcoming events, four of which were in Ohio, so far – and it would appear more cancellations and postponements are on the horizon. AIW had an event that was scheduled for Columbus, Ohio in late March which would have been a new market for us. Due to the situation ongoing with Covid-19, the venue has totally canceled the event with no discussion of a rescheduled date at this time which was devastating for us as we have been trying to expand to the Columbus area for quite some time. 

AIW also postponed two of our Cleveland events at The Odeon so far, one that was scheduled in March and another in April with potentially more postponements coming as we host events in the Cleveland area monthly. Our return event to the Akron area scheduled for late May has also been postponed at this time as we do not feel we could move forward based on the current situation – it just did not seem like something we could move forward with at this time. The biggest postponement was our April 2nd event in Tampa, Florida that was to take place over Wrestlemania weekend, which attracts several hundred thousand wrestling fans to one location every year and was to be a huge opportunity for AIW from an exposure and financial standpoint.

With all of the event postponements have come the financial burdens many businesses have faced in the last few weeks. We have refunded hundreds of tickets for the events mentioned above, lost out on several flights that had been booked months in advance, as well as all of the  advertising that was purchased. Outside of the events not being able to move forward at this time, we also operate a professional wrestling school which has had to close at this time until further notice.

I had to make a lot of tough phone calls to talent and staff informing them the events would not be going forward, as well as trying to get flights reimbursed which just went nowhere. Maybe I will try again once Priceline’s wait time goes below 21 hours.

Q: What are you personally doing to help cope with the quarantine?
A: I am just trying to keep myself busy and keep AIW relevant as much as possible. I know that there is a global pandemic going on in the world and a wrestling company in Cleveland, Ohio is probably the least of people’s concerns, but I need to do my part to keep our name out there as 

much as possible. I have made an effort to really utilize social media to interact with AIW fans through various platforms such as Patreon and Discord as well as the usual social media outlets – Twitter, YouTube, Facebook. 

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I have taken the time off to work on areas of the AIW business that have been neglected such as merchandising and setting up a home shipping operation to generate some sort of revenue by doing mail orders while we are off from our live event business. AIW now streams weekly on the pro wrestling streaming service Independentwrestling.tv, which is also helping us generate revenue. I am just trying to not become complacent and fall into a slump as a business owner and event promoter. One day things will be somewhat normal again – at least I hope – so now is a good time to get things a little more organized. I’ve actually kept myself extremely busy during all of this so far at least.

Q: How, if at all, has COVID-19 affected your worldview? Any new insights? New perspectives?.
A: Wow that is a deep question, It made me realize things can change literally overnight and you need to be prepared for the worst to happen. I realized the world especially mine can go on without AIW which is something I never once considered and I realize that may sound ridiculous to someone reading this however I have been doing wrestling events in some form since I was 15 years old so I have never really thought about my life without it until now so honestly my perspective is to try and enjoy it a little more once it comes back and stop putting so much pressure on myself.

Q: What’s the first thing you’re going to do when the shutdown ends?
A: Promote an AIW event at The Odeon. I will wait about six weeks though just in case we get shut down again.

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