Photo by Brady Hicks

Perhaps more than ever before, this year’s East Coast Wrestling Association (ECWA) Super 8 tournament is all about the trophy. Just ask the first entrant announced for this tournament, back in January on my IN THE ROOM podcast: Tommaso Ciampa.

A former WWE developmental wrestler, Ciampa has been collecting experience in independents around the world, including recent work for companies such as Ring of Honor, Dragon Gate, and EVOLVE. His Project Ciampa (powerbomb-into-lungblower) has made him one of the most feared men on the indie circuit today, and his success in the ring has garnered him a reputation as one of the most technically proficient un-signed wrestlers in the world today.

And yet, something digs at Tommaso.

“It’s been an incredible journey for me,” remarked Ciampa. “I’ve gone from a virtual unknown just two years ago to being one of the most well-regarded indie wrestlers around. I’m still amazed to now be wrestling for Ring of Honor. I owe a lot of that to my past matches in Super 8 and the platform it’s provided.” Added Ciampa with a smirk, however, “But I want more. And there’s only one way to get that.”

For the past two years, Ciampa has plowed through his Super 8 tourney opponents, only to fall short in successive finals appearances against Austin “Consequences” Creed (2010) and Nick Logan (2009). In Tommaso’s case, he has to feel like that proverbial jilted bridesmaid … When WILL it be Tommaso Ciampa’s turn to hold the trophy? As he looks around the locker room this Saturday, there will have to be a little bit of self-doubt.

Joining Ciampa in this year’s tournament is another former runner-up, a man who has been scourned by Ring of Honor and dismissed by WWE, in Austin Aries. The self-labeled “A-Double” will be a much different competitor than the man who first stepped into the ECWA ring and lost to Christopher Daniels in the 2004 Super 8 final. No longer wide-eyed with the world laid out before him, Aries now brings with him tremendous experience as a former star with TNA as well as ROH’s only two-time champion. And if Super 8 proves to be Austin’s final match as a full-time independent wrestler, you just have to wonder what the other seven guys are going to have to do to put him away.

One man a lot of indie fans immediately pegged as the Super 8 winner upon his announcement has been Sami Callihan, a man with a ruthless, aggressive streak unmatched by anyone else he will have to face on that day. Recently, Callihan’s pure hatred of Adam Cole, another Super 8 competitor, has led to him issuing a challenge to face Cole in the first round, opening match on the show. The match – an all-time rubber match between the two – will ensure that only one of the two men move on. Still, given Cole’s momentum after beating Callihan in the finals of CZW’s Best of the Best tournament, you have to like his chances.

Another competitor who should be at the top of his game come this Saturday is Rich Swann, a man many consider to be the top athlete in the tournament, and, quite possibly, in the world today. Could his breathtaking Standing 450 Splash be all that the Ronin member needs to derail his opponents? One thing is for sure: not enough people are talking about Swann as the legitimate threat that he will be. And if you are talking about men being overlooked, perhaps none of the wrestlers in this tournament are being overlooked quite as much as Bobby Shields, a former ROH star and longtime veteran of the ECWA. For Shields, the Super 8 will provide a definite home-field advantage. Can he capitalize?

Finally, in terms of international savvy, wrestlers such as indie standout Shiima Xion and the often-underrated (but fantastic high-flying star) Shockwave The Robot bring a “world” of experience from their time spent competing in Mexico, Japan, and Puerto Rico. Could this international experience come into play and give one or both of these men a real advantage when the bell rings at Super 8?

As Tommaso scans this locker room on Saturday and has his group photo with the coveted Super 8 trophy taken, all of this has to be playing in his mind. Last year, WWE caught notice of Austin Creed’s big Super 8 win, and rewarded him with a contract.
 
To this day, the possibility of what could have been haunts him.
 
“I’m not going to lie. I was very disappointed and feel I should have won that match,” he said. “Maybe then I’d be the one with WWE.” For Tommaso, a win at Super 8 and all of the possibility it holds for launching his career to the next level has to feel so close that he can just taste it.
 
There SHOULD be no shame in coming up short. Every year, Super 8 competitors have overcome great disappointment and gone on to have stellar careers in the wrestling industry. Just look at the big names who have stepped up to try to take the Super 8 trophy and failed — it reads like a Who’s Who of today’s wrestling landscape and includes men such as AJ Styles, Jeff and Matt Hardy, Daniel Bryan, and The Motor City Machine Guns.

Don’t try to explain that to Tommaso Ciampa, however. He’s leaving a little space on his trophy case to bring it all home.