12 Years In The Making: The Story of Jon Moxley vs Jake Crist

When Jon Moxley and Jake Crist square off on May 6 at Wrestling Revolver, it will be a match that has a long and illustrious history that many may not be aware of. It won’t be the first time these two have gone to war with each other, far from it. They came up together, they sharpened each other, they shed blood together, and now they’ll be wrestling each other for the first time in 12 years.

Their story dates back to the early 2000s. In 2003, the Heartland Wrestling Association (HWA) based out of Cincinnati was about a year removed from coming off a successful run as a WWE developmental territory. As the company was going about finding its way after WWE pulled the plug on the developmental deal due to budget cuts, the cards were being helmed by HWA stalwarts such as Matt Stryker, Cody Hawk and Nigel McGuinness.

Along with the established stars, a new influx of younger talent from the Cincinnati and Dayton area were finding their way into the company as well, two of those being Jake Crist and his brother Dave.

Jake debuted in the HWA on the July 1, 2003 HWA Showcase event, which were weekly shows held at the HWA training facility. By February 2004, the Crist Brothers were crowned HWA Tag Team Champions for the first time following a wild ladder match. The reign was short lived however, the duo losing the titles in an epic four-team TLC match a month later.

That summer, another future star of the HWA made his debut. Unbeknownst to Jake Crist this new debutant would become one of the biggest rivals in his career and held a a name the world would learn to know very well: Jon Moxley.

Moxley, a Cincinnati native, showed up at the old HWA training facility about a year prior and began taking instruction from HWA original Cody Hawk and then-HWA owner Les Thatcher. HWA records are spotty at best at times, but the first record I have of Moxley appearing on an HWA show is the June 20, 2004 HWA Sunday Showcase event, almost a year after Jake Crist’s debut.

At first, Moxley was a wild and crazy jock-type football player who was soon paired up with another local wrestler named Jimmy Turner to form the team Necessary Roughness. Only a few months into his tag team run with Necessary Roughness, Moxley and Turner squared off against the team of Jake and Dave Crist (then going by their Crazy J and Lotus monikers) on an HWA TV Taping in October 2004, where Necessary Roughness won by count-out. Later that year the two teams would square off again as part of a wild four way match at the 2004 HWA World War III show in Dayton, Ohio.


Throughout 2005, the two teams would face each other several times including a series of bouts for the HWA Tag Team Titles while Moxley and Turner were the champions. The Crist Brothers would eventually defeat Moxley and Turner for the tag titles in May of 2005.

By the end of 2005 though, both teams had gone their separate ways. Jimmy Turner had left the HWA and Moxley had been teaming up with various partners like Tack and Ric Byrne throughout the year and was about to embark on a singles run. Meanwhile, Jake and Dave Crist were involved with a Best of Seven Series against each other that would eventually culminate in a Ladder Match at the first HWA internet PPV, Cyberclash in March of 2006.

At Cyberclash, Moxley faced his mentor and trainer Cody Hawk in a violent and grueling cage match to cap off the event. Moxley, battered and bloody, came out triumphant after a 30-minute war that saw referees get assaulted, the ring get destroyed, and interference from Dick Rick (currently L.A. Knight in WWE). It was the match that made Moxley a certified main eventer in the HWA, later that year he defeated Pepper Parks (aka The Blade) for the HWA Heavyweight Championship.

Moxley and his Crew consisting of Dick Rick and a very young Sami Callihan dominated the HWA over the spring and into the summer.

By 2007, Crist and Moxley were well established within the HWA and it was time for them to branch out. The HWA went on hiatus beginning in August, with some of the roster branching off and forming EGO Pro Wrestling while others wrestled in other companies. The HWA came back in November 2007 under new ownership with a show titled “Reborn” that featured Jake Crist, Jon Moxley, BJ Whitmer and Chris Hero. While the new HWA was getting their footing, Moxley and Crist took their rivalry over to Indianapolis based Insanity Pro Wrestling (IPW) where they had their first singles match against each other in December 2007.

“When HWA relaunched in 2007, Mox and Jake were identified as the two guys we wanted to build around,” recalled former HWA commentator Chris the Brain. That was evident by the summer of 2008. 

BJ Whitmer had vacated the HWA Heavyweight Championship due to injury and the decision was made to crown a new champion at the HWA Unbreakable event in July. It was the perfect place and the perfect time for Moxley and Crist to battle for the first time one-on-one in the HWA.

The match was a heated back and forth contest. Moxley attacked Crist’s ribs for the majority of the match and looked well on his way to capturing the vacant title. Crist fought back with a brutal brainbuster on the floor of the hockey rink. Moxley continued bringing the fight but Crist was eventually able to secure the win following a second brainbuster and a soaring frog splash.

The match was over, Crist was the winner. He had won the title in a building across the street from the former HWA arena where he and Moxley had gotten their start.

By that time HWA had moved into their new regular home, the Sorg Opera House, which was a dilapidated and spooky old opera house in Middletown, Ohio that opened in 1891. Jake Crist was firmly entrenched as the HWA Heavyweight Champion, defending the title against old rivals like JT Stahr and HWA veterans such as Dick Rick and Sami Callihan. HWA was running weekly shows at the Sorg and the occasional weekend event which would serve as their “major” show of the month.

Despite Crist retaining his title and further solidifying his reign as champion, the specter of Jon Moxley loomed large.

The two squared off for the title on the November 5, 2008 event at the Sorg with Moxley picking up the win via DQ. In Moxley’s book he mentions that he came up with the story of Crist kicking him in the head an “egregious amount of times”. Moxley was out for revenge on Crist due to the near crippling injury. He wanted blood.

With the HWA Heavyweight Championship on the line again, the Jon Moxley vs Jake Crist rivalry that had spanned much of the year came to a head at the annual HWA year-end extravaganza, World War III. Like most of the events, this event was also held at the Sorg. I would know; I was there, along with a scant crowd of maybe 150 others who’d braved the December cold and made the trek to Middletown.

The night was full of excitement and anticipation; up and coming star Jesse Emerson won the annual Super Indy Battle Royal when he outlasted 39 other competitors. Ashley Lane (the future Madison Rayne) and Nevaeh retained their SHIMMER Tag Team Championships and there was a chaotic 6-man tag held under War Games rules where The GP Code (Andre Heart and Deja Vu) along with Benjamin Kimera defeated The Entourage (JT Stahr, “Madness” Chris Hall and V-Rad).

The time had come for the main event: Moxley vs Crist in a Steel Cage Match under “I Quit” rules.

From the opening bell it was a war. The match had the feel of a gritty street fight, something that might be seen more in an alley behind the building than in the confines of a wrestling ring. A grill fork got introduced into the match. Both men were bloody and beaten. The fact there’s no commentary on the DVD release just adds to the match, it makes you feel like you’re in the moment with the fans watching it as it happened.

Moxley attempts to choke out Jake Crist during their cage match. Credit: HWA

A chain comes into play at the end and Jake attempts to tie Moxley to the cage and hang him but it doesn’t quite work. They improvise, Moxley drops down and wraps his legs around the turnbuckle while Crist chokes him. You can feel the air escaping Moxley’s body, bitterly forced to give up to save himself. “The cage match was a culmination to that rivalry and a key win in Jake’s title reign,” said Chris the Brain, who handled ring introductions that night. “It made Jake the real deal as a singles competitor.”

Jake Crist’s reign as HWA Champion would continue until August 2009 where he lost the title at HWA Road to Destiny to King Vu. That winter Crist and Moxley would renew their rivalry in the HWA for the final time, this time in the tag team ranks.

In September 2009, Jon Moxley won the annual “Pick Your Poison” battle royal which allowed him to claim a title shot at any championship he chose and the tag team titles were in his sights.

On the October 14, 2009 event at the Sorg, Moxley and King Vu, the team aptly named Royal Violence, won the HWA Tag Team Championships when Moxley cashed in his Pick Your Poison shot. King Vu was now a double champion and Moxley was one half of the tag team champions and once again on top of the HWA as part of the King’s Court, the baddest stable in the HWA.

Jake Crist had once again reunited with his brother Dave and they set their sights on Royal Violence. On the November 11, 2009 edition of “A Fight at the Opera” the Crist brothers defeated Moxley and King Vu by DQ.

A rematch was signed for the December 2 weekly show where this time the Crist brothers were victorious in capturing the titles. The next week, Jake Crist and Jon Moxley fought one-on-one with Jake once again picking up the victory. At the annual World War III show, Irish Airborne and Royal Violence once again fought with the titles on the line and again the titles switched hands, Royal Violence becoming two-time champions. The January 13, 2010 event at the Sorg saw one more matchup between Irish Airborne and Royal Violence, this time with Airborne coming out victorious.

Following the feud between the Irish Airborne and Royal Violence, Moxley and Crist would only tangle in the HWA twice more. A tag team match on February 17, 2010 where Irish Airborne beat Moxley and his partner Jesse Emerson and one final HWA singles match on August 11 where Moxley finally exorcized the demon and beat Crist once and for all. Outside of HWA, Moxley and Crist wrestled each other in Moxley’s final CZW match at International Incident in 2011. That was the last time the two wrestled.

Credit: Wrestling Revolver

Since 2011, each competitor’s career has taken different routes. Moxley’s story is well known, a slew of accolades throughout WWE and AEW as one of the most beloved wrestlers in the world. Jake Crist’s story, however, isn’t as widely known.

Jake Crist’s career path saw him hang around the HWA until 2012, even gaining another run with the HWA Heavyweight Championship, until the company had another hiatus that August. He then went to compete in Dayton, Ohio based Rockstar Pro Wrestling where he held both the Rockstar Pro Championships and the Rockstar Pro Tag Team Championship. He moved on to a fairly successful stint in IMPACT! Wrestling as part of the oVe stable with Dave Crist, Sami Callihan and Madman Fulton. He captured the X-Division Championship and also the IMPACT! World Tag Team Championship. Outside of Impact, he wrestled a lot of independent shows but found a home in IWA Mid-South where he won pretty much every title they had and even won the 2021 Ted Petty Invitational Tournament.

Twelve years after their last match together and separate paths in wrestling these two are meeting once again. They’re both different wrestlers than they were twelve years ago but when they step in that ring together, it’ll bring back memories and it’ll be like those twelve years never happened.