Last month I wrote a piece for The Indy Corner discussing the origins of independent wrestling. We received a lot of positive feedback and I would like to thank everyone. Some of the folks replying also had follow up questions asking a variety of questions. So I figured my follow up article would be an article to address one of the subjects. One of the most frequent comment was something along the lines of what the biggest difference between the independent wrestling World today and how it worked many years ago? Or simply what’s the difference between wrestling today and yesterday?
Wrestling as we know it today is dramatically different than it was even a short 20 years ago. 20 years ago many of the individuals involved in wrestling, even at the independent level had roots in the sport dating back to the previous generation. A time when wrestling was operated on a territorial system made up by dozens upon dozens of offices around the world. There was an emphasis on protecting the business, keeping our trade secrets protected. In today’s wrestling locker rooms there is little to zero discussion about what the gate or house is or even who is in the locker room. For decades the locker room was a sacred place where outsiders were completely prohibited from entering. Another topic of discussion is what angles we should book to draw a house the next time we’re in town. Today you will hear conversations about what needs to be done during their match to display or highlight the wrestler’s athletic abilities and in some cases what needs to be done to generate a chant from the crowd.
At no time in wrestling history has the independent world been as influential as it is today towards what we see in major promotions. Every Monday we can see traces of the independent influence on our television sets. Wrestlers that built their name independently from major companies and have developed their skills going town to town working for various promoters across the world. The best independent wrestlers are taking bookings anywhere they can to support themselves. We’ve also seen indie wrestlers produce videos, t-shirts, photos and other forms of merchandise to support themselves.
One of the biggest influences indie wrestling has had on wrestling is the creation of NXT. Super indie promotions like Ring of Honor, PWG, Evolve or even Progress Wrestling have had a direct influence on NXT. Their success and growth of talent has shown the power house WWE that there is a fan base for wrestling that is different from what is produced during their weekly television wrestling programs. NXT and how they presented wrestling was modeled after smaller companies that has a grass roots support system. When these companies started producing events during WWE’s flagship Wrestlemania weekend and showed the ability to draw thousands of fans grossing hundreds of thousands of dollars this motivated WWE to branch out and create their own brand, independent of their main roster. We’ve seen with some of their recent additions that they have an eye on what is going on in the World of independent wrestling. There was a time where if you were working full time on the indie level you were almost invisible to the world. Now we see wrestlers who built careers on the accomplishments they have reached while working away from a major company.
With NXT geared towards capturing an audience that follows these underground groups. It has done an excellent job of creating a new fan base separate from what their parent companies has. In return we’ve seen this fan base show more interest towards the world of independent wrestling and its rising stars. I cannot think of another time in recent history where wrestling at a local level has been better in terms of quality of wrestlers and companies that are producing professionally operated events. No longer is it uncommon to see a local indie promotion attract a thousand fans or more. This is great news for an industry that just a dozen years ago appeared to become a single promotion entity, with little growth in sight. Advances in technology has also made it possible for promotions to build audiences across the world. This technology has also allowed them to deliver their product to a much wider range of customers.
We see constant growth within the world of independent wrestling. As I pointed out in my last article through the advancement of social media. And of course internet commerce growing as rapidly as it has so many platforms have opened up that allows independent wrestlers and companies to promote and sell their products to a massive online audience. There are also things like podcasts, such as Colt Cabana’s trend-setting podcast “The Art of Wrestling” or my very own podcast on MLWRadio.com “Indyriffic” that are both dedicated to spreading the word on what is going on in the world of independent wrestling. Just look at the growth of wrestling in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe?
For many years independent wrestling companies were usually formed in a geographical area that was once a home of a more established promotion or territory. Often times they had a basic theme or presented themselves to be a follow up or sequel to a once popular home town promotion. A common promotional tool would be for the promoter to hire a few wrestlers who had a history or exposure from that territories television or had worked for a national wrestling promotion. These names would come in and attract a crowd who was familiar with them and offer a very good nostalgia feeling for those fans. Much of the staff involved with running these promotions would have ties to wrestling during the territorial days, bringing years of experience under their belts. It was not uncommon 20 years ago to look at the results from that week’s independent wrestling cards and spot dozens of nationally known wrestlers in matches in cities all across the world.
When wrestling on a national and international level started shrinking those people who were being squeezed out went on to work for these smaller companies. A great example of this would be in 1988 when Greg Dykes took wrestling off of ITV in the United Kingdom. After years of highly rated television exposure promoters continued to promote using the names that were familiar with the television audience to attract the crowds. As time passed many of those names retired or left the industry and stopped wrestling. Wrestling on television was limited to Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation or possibly World Championship Wrestling. The wrestlers with exposure from those television programs were now being used to attract a crowd.
The wrestling world as a whole started to shrink under the global reach of the WWE. Veteran wrestlers for years had filled the locker rooms of independent wrestling events across the world started shrinking too. They were replaced by younger wrestlers who lacked the experience of wrestling every night of the week, or working in a territory or a major wrestling office. Promoters who shared the lack of experience began to become more the norm than it had previously. In the late 1990’s when wrestling exploded on cable television a whole new crew of promoters and wrestlers were established. Has the national star power of these names grew it influences a new breed of personalities who were as interested in becoming famous as they were to become wrestlers. Combine the new age of fame seekers with the new technology of the internet and it created a whole new view towards wrestling and how things are done.
The psychology of wrestling has changed since the dawn of the internet. The internet not only has provided an avenue for promoters and wrestlers alike to promote themselves or their products. It has also opened the world to the inter-workings of wrestling drastically changing how wrestling is perceived. How wrestling is constructed and worked in the ring is one of the most glaring and obvious changes in the course of the last few decades. Now everyone can claim to know the inner workings of wrestling and talk today is centered round what is going on IN the locker rooms, often more than what happens IN the ring. Seems you cannot go anywhere with-out having access to some sort of “inside knowledge” whether factual or not. This widespread belief of knowledge has change not only the views from those watching but the views of those involved with producing and performing in the ring.
The action in the ring is as over produced as a national television wrestling show. In years past if you were a wrestler who attempted to plan a match out move for move, you would get ostracized in a locker room. You may even find your gym bag laying outside of the locker room door. Being caught inside the ring working out with a scheduled opponent prior to a show was also a major no-no and could lead to you finding yourself without bookings. Heck being caught calling the event you’re wrestling on a “show” could have caused enough ire among your peers to lead to a painful reminder to protect the business. Despite antiquated ideas of what a real professional wrestling match would look like, it was still the goal for those in the wrestling industry to present what we were doing as real as possible. Of course there are so many contradictions it was the mind frame of wrestlers in the industry at the time.
Today I challenge you to attend an independent wrestling match where the participants have not spent hours leading up to the event in the ring. We’ve seen wrestling evolve over the years dramatically. There was a time when all the rage was for promoters and wrestlers to imitate what they watched on ECW, and hardcore matches littered the independent wrestling shows line up. We’ve since seen in ring action more geared towards what people have been exposed to with Ring of Honor. Or how they were influenced by a wrestler who built their reputation first with Ring of Honor. Today in ring action is being dictated and influenced more by what’s going on in throughout the independent world of wrestling than any other time in wrestling history.
Wrestling Evolves, yes pun intended. With great professional companies like Evolve leading the way. I only see positive growth in the world of independent professional wrestling. If you are interested in forecasting the future of professional wrestling keep your eyes glued to indie wrestling. Turn the television wrestling off, contribute and more importantly support the real back bone of professional wrestling. As independent wrestlers we are responsible for the future of professional wrestling. The fans that pack small gymnasiums or community centers are just as valuable as fans that pay money to watch wrestling at state-of-the-art arenas. Wrestling has changed but the goal has not, as a wrestler you are there to entertain fans and to make money doing so. Wrestling for free is nowhere near as fun as wrestling for a good pay day.
Protecting the wrestling industry was always something that had been ingrained in the people that were allowed into the business. While wrestling has changed the need to protect the business has not changed. What protecting the business means today and what it meant decades ago is not all the much different. Yes things have been exposed, but the quality of wrestling can be protected. As an industry we can dictate who is allowed to get booked. We can also dictate what companies we choose to support financially. Gone are the days of supporting companies that employ half trained wrestlers wearing crap they picked up at the local Hot Topics. And using the word employed is a loose meaning of the word, because gone are the days of promoters not willing pay their talent what they deserve. Who wants to beat their bodies up for free?
Even as an independent professional wrestler the key word in this sentence is professional. As the industry continues to develop we must remind ourselves and everyone that this is professional wrestling. Wrestling at its purest form, and needs to be protected.
Follow me on twitter: @mattfarmer93 and check out my weekly podcast on MLWRadio.com indyriffic. Each week we have a guest from the world of independent wrestling with the message of spreading the word.