Every indie promotion has one. The guy with the great body. The girl with the incredible look. The vet with the electrifying promo, or the kid who just started but can already hit a Shooting Star Press. It’s the one wrestler on that roster who, for some reason, has not yet signed with a big company.
Just as fans have their favorites, so do the folks in the locker room. The names vary depending on where you’re from, but across the Midwest, there’s one name on everyone’s list.
“Aaron Williams is one of the best in ring technical wrestlers on this planet,” says referee Aaron Grider. “That man should be a millionaire and on national TV. As good of a performer as he is out of the ring he is an even better man outside of it.”
“Aaron Williams is an extraordinary talent,” says Maria James, aka Amazing Maria. “He is one of the most underrated men on the Indy scene. Fifteen years in the wrestling business, I can say my favorite two matches of all time were with Aaron. He can work with anyone and make them look like a superstar.”
“Aaron Williams is one of the most professional people I have had the pleasure of working with,” says former promoter Rick Brady. “His work ethic can match anyone’s in the business.”
“I don’t know what it is, but he’s deserved to be on television for years, and he’s never been given the opportunity,” adds “The Veteran” Jack Vaughn. “He’s legit one of the best wrestlers on the indies, and I know that I’m not the only person that thinks so. He deserves to be in a bigger spotlight.”
“Aaron has helped so many people in his career and truly hasn’t gotten the appreciation he deserves,” says Billie Starkz. “He is a great trainer, friend, and wrestler.”
If you’ve seen Aaron Williams live, you get it. He’s got charisma, skill, and attitude. It doesn’t matter who’s standing in the opposite corner, you don’t go to the bathroom or get up for a hot dog during an Aaron Williams match. He’s a threat to steal the show from the curtain jerker to the main event.
He’s also unsigned. And he just doesn’t care.
A native of Cincinnati, Aaron Williams began studying martial arts when he was eight, including Tae Kwon Do, Jiu Jitsu and Kenpo. But martial arts quickly took a back seat in his late teens when he became more interested in another type of fighting: professional wrestling.
Williams grew up a Hulkamaniac. “That drew me on, but once I was in, I got into Macho Man and Sting. In my teen years I discovered Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Muta. Those three are still my favorites. Looking back with a trained eye, I really admire everything Muta does.”
Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were also the two men who made Williams realize he could become a pro wrestler. “They weren’t big guys. They were more my size. I started to think pro wrestling was something i could do.”
Aaron’s father laughed when his son first told him about his pro wrestling dream. Seeing his son was serious, he gave him this advice. “If you’re going to do it, do it big, and do it the best you can.” He had his family’s blessing. Now he needed the money to pay for classes. That money came in a very unexpected way.
“I had a cherry red Mustang convertible back then,” says Williams. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for classes, but just as I was getting ready to sign up, I totaled the car. I collected the insurance money and used it to pay for training. It was a blessing in disguise.”
Aaron started his training Tom Gyarmati any Intense Wrestling Incorporated in Price Hill, a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Some of the more experienced students at the school liked what they saw and took Williams under their wing. He floated around to a few local promotions before landing at Heartland Wrestling Association.
“I got word that Cody Hawk had seen me and liked what I did,” says Williams. “HWA had a WWE developmental deal for a while. I got to watch guys like Nigel McGuinness, Matt Striker, Chad Collier, Chris Hero, Eddie Kingston, Jon Moxley, Sami Callihan, LA Knight, and BJ Whitmer. It was insane, sitting under the learning tree of Cody Hawk and all these incredible guys.”
Jon Moxley and Sami Callihan became friends and travel buddies for Williams. His memories of those road trips are fond, if not a tad frightening. “Moxley had a ritual when he was driving. We’d fill up at Speedway, where we both collected Speedway points. He would buy a cappuccino, a Mountain Dew, and a banana. He sat in the driver’s seat, put the coffee between his legs, the Mountain Dew in a cup holder, peeled the banana, and pulled out his phone. Then he would drive 90 down the highway while eating, drinking, and talking on the phone. Somehow, I never worried about it, and we always got there safely.”
Williams would go on to become one of the top stars at another Southern Ohio promotion, Rockstar Pro Wrestling. The group based out of Dayton was founded by Cody Hawk and quickly attracted another flood of hungry, young talent.
“When you have an environment filled with guys who all want to be the very best, you create an iron sharpens iron atmosphere where you put on some really captivating shows,” says WIlliams. “Every week, everybody wanted to be better. Everyone had that mentality. Everybody wanted to steal the show. We brought in a flood of young talent.”
The list of wrestlers who worked at Rockstar is nearly as impressive as the one at HWA: Jake and Dave Crist, Alex Colon, Ace Austin, MJF, Steve Manders, Trey Miguel, Myron Reed, Zachary Wentz, and Wes Lee. “Looking back, I’m very fortunate to have those influences and be around the people I have in the business,” says Williams. “Some of them are considered the best in the world. It’s humbling, and it makes me grateful.”
As things wound down in Dayton, Aaron Williams became one of the top stars for another legendary promotion: IWA Mid-South. The company was in its latter days when Williams arrived around 2017. He had a run as champion, and this time, he found himself in the role of mentor to another talented locker room.
“It was a special time for me,” he says. “Once they made me The Guy, everybody had to come through me. That gives you a point of pride. I had a hand in developing Logan James, Tyler Matrix, Kevin Giza, and many other guys who came through there.”
If Williams had a weakness to his game, it was his character work. Having come up in the era of Ring of Honor, his early trainers focused on wrestling skill versus character development. Williams adapted well from martial arts to pro wrestling, and he has always been highly praised for his in-ring skill, but he struggled for a long time to develop his persona.
“The first gimmick I ever used, the promoter wanted me to be a collegiate wrestler, like Rick Steiner,” says Williams. “He made me wear the headgear and everything. I was a martial arts guy, and the college wrestler thing was the complete opposite of who I was. It was very uncomfortable.”
Having his family at ringside did ease the discomfort on that first night as his mom, dad, and grandmother were in attendance. “My grandmother is a very sweet, Christian lady. It was funny to hear her screaming and yelling at my opponent.”
For nearly a decade, Williams was a self-described white meat babyface before hitting on his first true character. He was at Rockstar Pro when he spoke with Cody Hawk about a character from the movie The Last Dragon named Sno’nuff. With some direction from Hawk, Williams became “The Baddest Man Alive,” using the song by The Black Keys and RZA as his entrance music.
Williams learned a lot in a short time from “The Baddest Man Alive,” but he struggled to stay in character. “I wasn’t sure how to react to people, and I kept falling back on my white meat babyface role. Then some things happened in my personal life, and I decided to take some risks.”
Williams turned heel, which elicited a stronger reaction from the fans but not the one he wanted. Instead of booing him, they cheered. “They weren’t happy I was a heel so much as they were happy I was just doing something,” Williams admits. “I realized that wasn’t working, I decided to try something different.”
Enter The Dead Ringer, a persona inspired by Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange. “I wanted a character who appeared to be one thing but was really something different. I thought about Alex DeLarge, and how he appears to just be a kid and a teenager who doesn’t know what he’s doing, but really, he’s an agent of chaos. Alex knows exactly what he’s doing, and he doesn’t care. If that’s not pure evil, I don’t know what is.”
The Dead Ringer debuted at a Halloween show and became an instant hit. Williams shook up his entire look. Know for weating traditional wrestling in trunks, he now enters the ring in pants, a dress shirt, and a tie with a hat, cane, and just a touch of face paint. The character has given him a greater level of comfort in the ring, and he continues to not only refine the persona but share his own lessons and struggles with finding his ring character with students.
“There are some people who come into this business and know exactly who they are and what they want to do,” says Williams. “MJF knew what he wanted to be when he walked in the door. It takes some guys, like myself, some time to figure that out. But I love who I am now. My character loves the art of wrestling. It’s violent, and it’s beautiful.”
Williams is often mentioned in the same breath with another indie darling, Gary Jay of St. Louis. You would be hard pressed to find two guys who love the business more, and their fans are quick to tell you both men deserve to be signed. The two are frequently booked together as opponents or even a tag team and have become synonymous with the rebellious indie trope, “Unsigned, don’t care.”
“It started a couple years ago, we’d just had one of those matches that tore the house down,” says Williams. “I don’t know what was sticking in our craw that night, but Gary said to me, ‘Man, we’re two guys who are unsigned and just don’t care.’ It just kind of stuck with both of us. It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t sign some place given the chance. It just means being signed doesn’t define who we are.
“A piece of paper doesn’t make you good. It doesn’t make you passionate. It doesn’t even mean you could have skill. You could have your name on a piece of paper just because of your name. If you go to see me or Gary wrestle, we’re going to steal the show. We’re going to tear the house down. If you don’t know who we are when you walk in that door, we’re going to make sure you know who we are before you go. We’re going to work harder. We’re going to go above and beyond. Nobody’s going to out work us. I take a lot of pride in that, and I know that Gary does too.”
Williams is certainly not lacking for shows to steal. On a recent weekend, he faced former NWA World Champion Nick Aldis on a Saturday night before traveling to Louisville, where he main vented the first television taping for Derby City Wrestling against former Impact champion Moose. Williams is truly excited to still be making the hundred mile trek to Louisville for Derby City.
“It’s a big production,” he says. “I’m seeing a different side of the business than I’ve ever experienced. They’ve got some big sponsors and a television deal. The crowds have been great. It’s exciting to be in a place that sees something in me besides just my number of social media followers. I’m grateful to be a part of it.”
Williams is also heavily involved with St. Louis Anarchy and Ohio-based promotion Unsanctioned Pro Wrestling. “Unsantioned Pro is probably the one I plant my flag in the highest. They’re working hard, growing that promotion from the ground up. The people there are driven and as passionate as I am.”
Williams is also enjoying his newer role as a teacher, and he’s earning rave reviews from colleagues. “Aaron has a way with students,” says Maria James. “When he wrestled Haley J at IWA Mid-South, it was her ninth or tenth match, but you never would have known it. I couldn’t recommend him enough to promoters, young kids wanting to get into the business, you name it. Aaron Williams is a class act!”
One of the things you hear most when asking people about Aaron Williams is his character. From the way he does business, to his way in the locker room, to his interaction with fans, everyone speaks of Aaron Williams as a man of impeccable character. Wrestling fan Kenny Ozz recently shared this story on Facebook.
“Several years ago, a group of friends and I went to an IWI wrestling show in Price Hill. They sold dollar beers at the small, run-down venue, and my crew had a lot of them. We incessantly heckled every wrestler who came through the curtain. A young kid named Aaron Williams came out for his match, and we let him have it. We asked him if he was the Midget Brock Lesnar. We called him Brock Les-Nerd and Brock Loser. He laughed it off like a pro and put on easily the best match of the night. After the show, he came out and thanked us for coming and said we were funny. Like I said, a true pro, thereby earning my respect. Fast forward a few years, and I am now lucky enough to call Aaron a friend. And he still rules, in and out of the ring. One of the best local wrestlers around and an even better person.”
Mad Man Pondo has shared the ring and the locker room with Williams many times over the years and adds his two cents. “Not only is Aaron one of the best talent out there, but also one of the nicest to talk to in the locker room. In a business full of shadiness, Aaron breaks that mold. Any promoter would be lucky to have him on a show. Draws people to come see him, and helps talent learn from him.”
Ron Mathis may have put it better than anyone. Another product of Ohio, Mathis has tagged with and wrestled against Aaron Williams more times than he can count.
“Whenever I find out someone knows Aaron, I try to convince them that I think Aaron is a horrible wrestler and person. I seriously commit to the bit. No one has ever thought I was serious for even a second. I think that says everything you need to know about Aaron.
“Big ol’ butt on that boy too,” Mathis adds.
Aaron Williams has continued his martial arts studies to this day, adding Haran Do to his repertoire. Looking ahead to life after pro wrestling, he wants to continue studying the fight sports and possibly open his own school.
In the short term, Williams remains true to himself and his “Unsigned don’t care” counterpart when he speaks of career goals.
“My main goal is to steal every show that I am on,” he says. “I am excited to continue training people to do this business that I love. I’m hoping to go to Europe soon and show the European fans that The Dead Ringer ain’t nothing to mess with.”