The wrestling industry of today is in rude health, from a fan’s point of view. There is a loaded schedule of programming on network television through the week, and a diverse range of independent shows running most weekends in all the major local markets.
It wasn’t quite like that for me as a 16-year-old wrestling geek back in 2001. Having watched the two major alternatives to WWE cease to exist, I had to do something I’d never done at that point: get on out there and explore beyond the obvious options on the Sky box.
That was easier said than done. Internet streaming wasn’t much of a force back then, and while those slightly older than me with more disposable income had the tape trading thunderdome of the 1990s as a resource, my options were considerably more limited.
And then there were the local indies. Any of the tremendous books published so far on British wrestling have done a far better job of documenting the travails from 1985 to 2002, but needless to say I wasn’t particularly keen on paying money for the infamous WWE ‘tribute’ shows on offer. And the less said about UWA: Wrestling Rampage on Live TV, the better.
But with the hardships of WCW and ECW’s demise came opportunity. Most of those opportunities were taken with mixed results: TNA/Impact and ROH aren’t exactly what they could and should have become thanks to countless mistakes, but they’re still going strong. And over here in Britain, we had the Frontier Wrestling Alliance: a company that fizzled out after a few years and included a failed reboot attempt, but one that undoubtedly sowed the seeds for the recovery of the UK scene.
It was thanks to the Talksport-funded British Revival in early 2002 that many of us without access to a great deal outside of WWE were rescued from the brink of becoming lapsed fans. Featuring free agent stars such as Eddie Guerrero and Brian Christopher mixing it up with genuinely-talented Brits such as Doug Williams and Jody Fleisch, British wrestling was actually exciting. And when the FWA announced a big marquee show at York Hall in Bethnal Green, I was all over it.
That show was British Uprising I, held on this very day 17 years ago. And with taking place just a 15-minute walk from my house, it was time to escape the comfort zone of only attending live wrestling events when WWE or WCW rolled into town. While I was aware of the announced matches and the basic outline of the major storylines heading in, I honestly didn’t have a clue what to expect.
The first match on the card was the perfect tonic for that. There’s an art form to the opening match of a show, and when British Uprising sent unknown entities Raj Ghosh, James Tighe and Jack Xavier out there to exchange creative holds and counters in a great use of the triple threat format for the time, the FWA had found themselves a low-key masterpiece.
The crowd, lured mostly on the backs of Revival, the Talksport weekly show and former ECW stars such as Balls Mahoney and Jerry Lynn, weren’t expecting these undercard guys to give them such a great start to the night. But they did. And it did more for the optimism of the local scene than any number of imports could.
Nonetheless, that was all still to come. And after two more up-and-comers in Hade Vansen and The Zebra Kid went at it in decent action, we were rocked by a tag team attraction being violently interrupted by Paul Burchill, who embarked on a tear while looking a million bucks in the process. In 2002, having someone show up on a British indy in such a manner and display enough in a brief cameo to look like a Vince McMahon wet dream just wasn’t something people expected to happen. And if WWE had worthy competition in the 2000s, who knows what Burchill could have achieved.
After a doddering double disqualification between Robbie Brookside and Drew McDonald essentially just paid lip service to two veterans who had stuck by BritWres through thick and thin, it was time for the show’s true selling point to begin: three mouthwatering match-ups pitting some of the FWA’s best against a trio of men only available due to the sorry state of mainstream wrestling post-2001.
Williams vs Jerry Lynn was a charming hybrid of contemporary action and the classic World of Sport style. Jonny Storm vs AJ Styles was the state-of-the-art war everyone hoped it’d be. And Balls Mahoney was the perfect foil for Ulf Hermann – and the perfect excuse for the two to fight through the crowd in my first true experience of the type. The same can be said for the thumbtacks finish.
In amidst that three-match series – won by the home hopes in a clean sweep – Nikita (Katarina Waters) put forth the sort of performance in her match with the under-appreciated Paul Travell that really should have helped break some of wrestling’s intergender hang-ups that have only recently been worn down. And the main event gave us a live ladder match, featuring Fleisch’s crowning moment against Flash Barker – as well as a memorable moonsault off the York Hall balcony.
British Uprising I doesn’t hold up to some of the offerings on these shores in recent years, nor that of some of the top independent companies in the US. But very few events were as crucial in the grand scheme of the industry’s slow recovery from the 2001 monopolisation, especially over here.
And for me in particular, Uprising opened so many doors. It changed my perception and my expectations of a live wrestling event. It began a much healthier interest in independent promotions. It also led to me meeting several people in the wrestling media industry who remain good friends 17 years later, such as my Because WCW co-host Dean Ayass and wrestling journalist Greg Lambert.
We all have that one so-called minor wrestling show that makes a major impact on our lives as fans. Which event had that kind of effect on you?