The British wrestling scene was a different beast back in the mid-00’s. I can’t vouch for the rest of the UK, but I can tell you from experience that the West Midlands scene was a damp, unsavory landscape. The bad far out-weighed the good and you had no choice but to accept it as there wasn’t really a local alternative.
Due to my negative experiences surrounding these shows, with the addition of hearing about great shows happening elsewhere in the British Aisles, I had completely written off the chances of the West Midlands having any decent promotion to hang it’s hat on. Shows popped up here and there with international names attached and wrestlers I had read about on the internet as being the best in Britain, but my motivation to attend any of these shows had been killed off. It wasn’t until a chance encounter with a promotion in Wolverhampton that I thought. “Hey, maybe we’ve got something after all”.
I attended my third independent wrestling show in September 2006. My first was back in December 2004 (FWA British Uprising 3), and before then my experiences with live wrestling were;
− A 2000 WCW house show; a woeful experience that promised Goldberg, Sting and Kevin Nash but only delivered the latter…in a wheelchair. The show ended with Buff Bagwell getting on the mic to literally remind us of what we didn’t get.
So although live wrestling shows appeared to be a mixed bag to start with, I was really looking forward to attending a local independent wrestling show for the first time. I was a big fan of the American indie scene and kept up with the main five pillars; PWG, ROH, CZW, CHIKARA and IWA-MS. Although there were no notable names or imports on the show, I had high hopes for a cracking evening of innovative action from Birmingham’s best. I left the venue a few hours later, disheartened and disappointed.
The first observation that struck me was the very low ceiling. While not an issue in today’s scene due the unbelievable talent being able to work miraculously around such restrictions, to the point they probably see a low ceiling as a fun challenge rather than a hindrance, back then this was bad news if you were after any decent in-ring action. This show was made up of a lot of trainees and new guys making their first forays into the big, bad world of pro wrestling and it made for a dull, drawn-out show.
But who needs head drops and flips when what you really need is great characters and a dash of charisma? That is something I truly believe and is why I encourage people to go to lesser-known, more family friendly promotions to see the masters work the crowd like they are artists molding clay. However, on this dark day, it was not to be . A midst the sea of people who looked like they had just walked out of a Slipknot concert were skinny lads in tracksuit bottoms, race-baiting foreigner gimmicks, cheap nationalism and misguided attempts at recapturing the late 90’s (the card featured a Bra & Panties match which was awkward at best and exploitative at worst).
If this seems like an assassination of the scene back then or some tirade on smaller promotions, I assure you it’s not. I’m sure there were promotions all across the country putting on great cards at the time and I understand that it’s at these smaller shows where trainees and new faces find their feet and develop. Hell, there were even a few good bits here and there at these local shows, and there were a couple of guys who I thought were going to break out. I have the utmost respect for anybody who laces up a pair of boots and mean no malice to the performers. However, as a fan of the more exciting, high flying, hard hitting American wrestling scene back then, it really disappointed me to find out that I had no go-to. I knew of no promotion within the West Midlands provided a product that I, and many other local fans, really wanted.
I remember speaking to a Dad and his young daughter in the queue for this show, and he was gloating about how his daughter loved Delirious and had met him at the ROH UK tour and how they were looking forward to seeing what our city had to offer. I hope they both clung on to that hope for the scene like I did and are enjoying what we have now. It wasn’t a bright representation of what independent wrestling could’ve been and what it eventually would be.
I kept going to these shows as every now and again, they would sprinkle in a splash of promise here and there. They booked PAC a few times and would regularly bring in the likes of Spud and Johnny Storm. But I stopped going in 2008 as I lost hope in anything substantial happening and by 2009 I had given up all attention I had spared for the UK scene, instead focusing my wrestling energies on other global promotions.
Between then and 2012, I sporadically dipped back in to see what was going on locally (I even got a glimpse of a young Trent Seven and MK McKinnan in what must be some of their first matches), and I caught WWE house shows and TNA when they were in town, but I always left feeling empty. I wanted characters I could believe in, I wanted to roar with appreciation and wonder, I wanted to chant for my faves and boo the people I really despised. Was a 2003 Smackdown house show going to remain the best wrestling show I had ever seen?
The scene today is incredible. It really is breath taking to see British wrestling thriving. Every city seems to have at last one dependable promotion which caters to their tastes. Every time I queue for a wrestling show now, and I see all the happy faces and the big names and the packed buildings and the beer flowing and people singing and actual emotional attachment to the people in the ring, I think about how lucky we all are to be here and in the now. I hope the British wrestling bubble never pops again, as we are living in the best time to be a fan of this great sport.
The reason for the grim sounding write-up of those yester-years (which will probably ruffle a few feathers and come off as a whiny, entitled piece by someone who has never taken a bump in their life) is to really put across how ecstatic and happy I was when, six years later, I stumbled upon a Wolverhampton promotion I had never heard of. They had Prince Dewitt, Dave Richards, Johnny Gargano and Jonathan Gresham at the next show. They were based out of Wolverhampton. They were holding the shows at a dingy night club. They were charging a fiver (!) for entry. They were everything I was looking for all those years. They were also about to become the wrestling promotion that the West Midlands would happily hang their hat on.
Thanks for reading! Look out for part two where I’ll be discussing Fight Club: Pro, Planet nightclub and the lasting impression it’s left. Also, I welcome any feedback and constructive criticism. You can find me on Twitter at @GlobalForceGold.