As a researcher and writer of the history of professional wrestling, and more importantly in my mind, as a fan of pro wrestling going back to when I was a three-year-old in the 70s, I have many a change in the performance art we know and love. Some changes have been for the better and unfortunately some have been for the worse. And one of the changes that have been for the worse has been the lack of accessibility to the wrestlers that was part of the territory system that once existed in professional wrestling.
There was a time when there were no barricades that stood between the fans and the wrestlers and when fans might be able to see one of their favorite (or in some cases their most hated) wrestlers in the parking lot after the match or near ringside before the match, and have an opportunity to say “hello” or even get an autograph.
It was also a time when the wrestlers had a connection with the fans and would gauge the crowds response and work their match accordingly, when everything wasn’t “choreographed tumbling” as wrestling legend Lou Thesz would call it. It was an amazing period that was truly an interactive experience for the wrestling fan, something that is largely lacking in the pro wrestling scene today and certainly lacking among the “Big Two” wrestling promotions. Thankfully, we have options.
The better independent wrestling promotions offer a little taste of what it was like in the territory days, with intimate fan settings, easier access to the performers, and a “hometown promotion” feel that you just don’t get with the WWE and TNA. Thanks to the independent wrestling promotions, wrestling fans have options.
And in Northern California the amount of options has definitely expanded. Up until the early 80s when legendary promoter Roy Shire was running his circuit, Northern California wrestling fans could see wrestling on a regular basis at different venues, each of which had its own distinct atmosphere. With the WWE, the shows have been limited to a few times a year and even then, they are just a generic national brand. Several independent promotions have sprouted in recent years, not only providing the fans with freedom of choice, but with live wrestling action on a regular basis.
Big Time Wrestling promotion, which took its name from promoter Roy Shire’s old promotion and runs its shows in Newark, California. Its connection to Shire’s promotion doesn’t exist in name alone, as Roy’s former ring announcer Allan Bolte also does the ring introduction for White’s promotion as well. In addition to presenting up and coming stars from the Indy wrestling scene, many very recognizable names have also graced it’s rings, including Scott Steiner, Christopher Daniels, Chavo Guerrero, D.H. Smith, T.J. Perkins, Daivari, Carlito, Chris Masters, Bobby Lashley, The Ballard Brothers, Hardcore Holly, Paul London, Brian Kendrick, Oliver John, Mike Modest, Al Snow, Mickie James, Kazarian, John Morrison, “Black Machismo” Jay Lethal, and Colt Cabana.
And speaking of the interactive fan experience, BTW also puts on an annual Wrestlefest which gives fans an opportunity to meet, get autographs from, and have photo-ops with many past and present stars of pro wrestling, and this year’s edition which takes place on May 17th, will be headlined by none other than “the Nature Boy”, Ric Flair. And if you can’t wait until May to get your BTW fix, catch their “Honkytonk Man Retirement Show” on March 28.
John LaRocca of San Jose also looks to continue a legacy of pro wrestling while simultaneously adding a unique and appealing twist with his Premier Wresting promotion.
“My Grandfather used to go to shows all the time in downtown San Jose at the Civic Auditorium. His favorite was Lou Thesz. He used to take my Grandmother, but she had to stop going because she got worked up and her left hand would be hurting after the matches. She’d make a fist with her right hand and punch her left hand, yelling ‘Get him! Get him!’, as she cheered on her favorites.”
John would enter the business himself and wearing various hats while helping the late Roland Alexander with his APW promotion in Hayward, California. After working as a heel manager and then booking the promotion for four years, John would go on to start Premier in 2013. “John LaRocca is a booking genius,” said renowned wrestling photographer Mike Lano. “He is a very good guy who knows talent and uses them properly with his own group.”
“It’s a throwback to old school wrestling,” says John. “Basically, it is pro wrestling with an MMA vibe. All sport, no B.S.” The most intriguing feud in his promotion has been the one between Premier’s Heavyweight Champion “Mr. Athletic” Jeff Cobb and “Old School” Oliver John. Cobb was a competitor in the 2004 Olympic Games as a light heavyweight freestyle wrestler and John is ring veteran with more than 14 years of experience, and has competed all over the Indy scene in the U.S. and has working in Canada, Mexico, and Japan. He was trained by the legendary Paul DeMarco, another link to Northern California’s great pro wrestling legacy.
Their feud and Premier wrestling has been covered in the Wrestling Observer’s Figure 4 Online where correspondent Garret Gonzales called the promotion a “breath of fresh air with a strong mat-based style and lots of submission attempts built around logical wrestling with a UFC flair to it.” Dave Meltzer called Cobb “an unreal powerhouse when it comes to functional man-on-man strength, like a Cesaro.”
LaRocca wasn’t kidding when he referred to his promotion as “a throwback to old school wrestling,” as evidenced by a match (that you can catch on YouTube by the way) between Cobb and Oliver John from the December 2013 show. The match contained a realism that you don’t often see in pro wrestling these days with the wrestlers taking time to tell a story and proving that highspot after highspot isn’t really the way to go. One of the reasons that UFC is so popular these days is because its real, and while pro wrestling is still a work, the more than the ring work allows a fan to suspend disbelief, the more enjoyable the product will be.
You won’t see workers in Premier being focused on “getting their stuff in”, but rather on working together to put on a successful match which will engross the fan, without every single move looking like it was meticulously planned out. The wrestlers of Premiere Wrestling put on a show for the fans, not for themselves. You can check on their Anniversary Show on March 30 at the Ifedes Lodge-Portuguese Hall in Gilroy, California. Tickets are only $15 at the door or you can buy them online in advance for only $10 at http://premierwrestle.com
And on March 22, Joe Sousa and Michael McCurdy will co-promote their inaugural wrestling show in Arcata, California, which will open with an old school battle royal. One of its participants will be Jasin Sullivan, an up and comer who was trained by “Playboy” Buddy Rose, who in turn had been trained by the legendary Verne Gagne and the recently departed ring great, Billy Robinson.
Joe Sousa brings to the table 17 years of experience in professional wrestling, having worked as a ring announcer and/or a play-by-play commentator for such promotions as Oregon’s West Coast Wrestling Connection, and several Northern California wrestling promotions including Kirk White’s Big Time Wrestling, Roland Alexander’s APW, and Fog City Wrestling. Sousa and McCurdy will be bringing in wrestlers from Oregon to compete on his show, “People who we know, who are reliable, who we can trust” said Sousa, adding that “it’ll be a fantastic show for the fans.”
The main event will feature HBQ Quiz facing “The Devil Himself” Derrick Drexl in a “No Rules Street Fight.” The two have been feuding for some time in Oregon and will now bring their war to Northern California in what promises to be an intense confrontation. Sousa has been a wrestling fan for over 30 years having met many of the greats of pro wrestling and is looking to bring the same type of excitement to his wrestling card that he enjoyed while growing up. General admission is a mere $10 with ringside tickets priced at only $15, both an exceptional value. Trying getting an up close and personal wrestling experience like that at TNA or WWE at any price.
Professional wrestling had had a long and storied history in Northern California, stretching back over 125 years, and thankfully, there are several passionate individuals looking to add to the legacy of entertainment that the “King of Sports” has provided for millions throughout the years. -RR