Who Is Indy?
Independent wrestling is the talk of the professional wrestling industry. In 2018, a wrestling fan has hours upon hours of professional wrestling at their fingertips. Through streaming services, television deals, pay-per-view events and live events, there are more and more opportunities to watch quality pro wrestling. This poses a couple of questions; is this the greatest period of time ever in the history of our great sport? And if so, is this because of “independent wrestling”?
From THE COMIC BOOK STORY OF PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING
Territories and Alliances and Expansions…
Where the term “Indy” began, we can’t begin to know exactly. Its origins do fall within the actions of Vince McMahon in the 1960s. Yes, the 60s! And we’re talking McMahon, Sr. Prior to wrestling’s expansion, wrestling promoters booked their territories in alliance with other states and regions. Their top stars would work in the territory looking to create a memorable and heated issue that would draw crowds to come in week-after-week. In some territories, night-after-night. When the time was right, a wrestler would be exchanged or move to a different territory. A travelling World Champion would tour the territories and be promoted on behalf of the National Wrestling Alliance. In the 60s, McMahon Sr. and Verne Gagne of the American Wrestling Alliance would break away to form their own entities so that they could exert more influence and decide who could contend for their World Championships. This created the cracks that would eventually engulf the good ol’ territory days.
Birth of the Indy
The transition of territories to independents is thanks largely in part to two names: Turner and McMahon. Whilst that sounds like Tom Hanks is looking to reboot his buddy cop canine capers, the story of Vince McMahon and Ted Turner’s expansion, and subsequent wars, have been told over and over like a broken record. The relevance here is that through Vince McMahon’s WWF expansion and Turner’s purchase of Jim Crockett Promotions, is that the top names were signed quickly to exclusive deals and the initials WWF and WCW became synonymous with being the ‘major leagues.’ The old school territories would eventually be absorbed by these promotions or shut down as they struggled to compete with those promotional machines, leaving a void for unsigned wrestlers and cities not getting as much love from the WWF or WCW.
At first, independent wrestling was languishing territorial promotions. Wrestlers seen as not good enough or past their prime would fill the card, and independent would be associated with “lesser than” the two major promotions. The rise of Paul Heyman’s ECW was a game changer and an intriguing case study in terms of how wrestling companies defined themselves. Heyman and his “land of misfit toys” challenged the status quo by identifying strongly with a violent style they wished to bring into the mainstream. Their influence on the North American market through technical wrestlers such as Malenko, Guerrero, Saturn and co, and luchadores such as Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis should not be understated. However, anybody believing that they sold themselves on anything other than the extreme violence and in-your-face ‘attitude’ is kidding themselves. They gained a huge following through tape traders and the early origins of the internet despite being a glorified indy for those formative years. That is not to demean what they did and how they shaped the business.
The Big Three?
When lapsed or long-time wrestling fans look back on the industry, they make reference to “The Big 3” of professional wrestling; WWF (now WWE), WCW and ECW. But when did ECW make that jump from ‘Indy’ to a major promotion?
● Was it when they started working with the WWF to cross-promote and develop talent?
That makes them a development territory, not necessarily a major promotion, no?
● Was it in 1997 for ECW Barely Legal – the company’s first Pay Per View?
Not likely, as Crockett had Pay Per Views in the early 80s. Ring Of Honor, New Japan, Impact Wrestling/TNA have also had globally accessible Pay Per Views since. Despite kicking off the independent wrestling surge of the early 2000s, ROH had never been labelled anything other ‘Indy.’
● Was it because of the talent they had in the company? Austin, Foley, Funk, Guerrero, Jericho all had meaningful stints in ECW.
A lot of the fondness of its roster is done in hindsight. People were wowed by Guerrero and co but it took the bigger machines of WCW and WWE to make them into megastars. Funk is a living legend of the business and hugely vital to ECW’s rise. However, getting the former champion/veteran in for programs is an ‘Indy’ move. Austin and Foley are unique megastars who had that special something all along, but it can be argued that ECW acted as their “development period” before reaching their heights in WWF/WWE.
Analysing the ROH question further with names such as Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens amongst many other high profile examples create a pretty stacked legacy in itself.
● Was it when they began airing on TNN in 1999?
To debunk that, Impact Wrestling/TNA had major TV too. They even foolishly launched head to head TV with WWE. A sneaky Bret Hart return on WWE television doomed that from the get-go. However, with all the due respect of a Limp Bizkit video package, TNA has never been seen as a major promotion. And that’s with a roster that had the likes of Hogan, Flair, Sting, Angle, Foley, Nash, Hardy, Styles, Joe, etc.
What’s the Major problem with ECW?
There is no Major problem with ECW. Heck, WWECW bought us Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins. The reason for this line of question, Your Honour, is to gauge where do “we” as the wrestling public draw the line as to what is ‘Indy’ and why on Harley Race’s God’s Green Earth does it matter?
Let’s use a quintessentially Australian example. Australian Rules Football; it’s Australia’s game. The AFL is the premier national competition but there are also state leagues and suburban leagues that attract feverish passion. When the supporters go to the suburban parks to support their friends and family in these suburban competitions, they don’t look to label these games as ‘Indy’ football. They are supporting their ‘local’ football. For professional wrestling, doesn’t that sound the best way to describe it?
Your ‘local’ wrestling.
Industry Consensus in 2018?
It can be argued that most promotions outside the WWE umbrella are now independent. “The Godfather” Davis Storm, the founding father of the modern Australian scene through Western Australia says, “If you look at the landscape, just about everybody is independent.”
EPW Announcer Dean Olsen takes the financial view that independent wrestling is one that has “no major sponsorship who funds their own endeavours”, whereas EPW Head Referee Giles O’Brien defines independent wrestling as, “any reputable federation that is not signed to WWE/ROH/NJPW.”
This once again raises the question of when a promotion evolves into a major one. Warzone Wrestling Australia Promoter Pitbull looks at the target audience for his definition of independent wrestling when he says it’s, “high-quality wrestling entertainment for the local community.” Even from the varying levels inside the Australian industry itself, there is a range of definitions.
What hope does the average punter have of getting the definition spot on?
All the promotions who Independent, throw your hands up at me!
The term ‘Indy’ has a certain stigma that is irrelevant in 2018. Globalisation of products and companies makes accessing content even easier. Whether the event is in Claremont (Western Australia), Sunbury (Victoria), Chicago, Moscow, Tokyo or Nesquehoning, it is likely that you will be able to stream the full show or at the very least the highlights from a room anywhere in the world.
Whilst WWE is the biggest promotion, each wrestling fan has a different taste. In addition to promoting, Current Underworld Wrestling Champion Pitbull equates it to a simple comparison of ice cream, “Some people like chocolate. Some people like strawberry. That’s all it is. They don’t hate on chocolate because they like strawberry.”
To expand further on the tastebud metaphors, professional wrestling can be consumed in so many different ways to accommodate this; much like how you take your coffee. You could like the quick and easy fast food coffee, whereas some would rather sit in their house and brew it to their liking. Others may like their artisan-crafted special brew from a cafe, or a person may care more about the experience of it all by getting coffee whilst at the hairdresser. Wrestling is the same. Different promotions will cater to different tastes. And unless you’re wrestling with no ring like it’s WCW Backstage Assault, this doesn’t mean that the different promotions are ‘lesser than.’ Davis Storm gleefully states of the current wrestling scene that, “I strongly believe that there has never been a more incredible time for wrestling. You can seek out whatever it is you enjoy about wrestling.”
Where do we go from here, sweet wrestling child?
This part is easy. Fans, it’s time to get your fix. Whether it’s major promotions and their networks, global phenomenons and their streaming avenues, or your local wrestling promotion. “There were 70,000 people at the MCG…” Pitbull opines in reference to WWE’s Super Showdown event held in Melbourne early last month, “There are 70,000 people. We don’t even get to our shows, 2% of that.” He wonders, “What are we doing wrong? We’re not doing much wrong because there are some high-quality shows and high-quality talent throughout the country.”
Wrestling is such a unique beast. It needs YOU, the audience, to connect with it and be part of the atmosphere. A low crowd or disengaged crowd can make a ‘5 Star Match’ seem like a ‘No Star match’ (although it would be a 1 Star Match in the Tokyo Dome, still). Given the access we have as a wrestling fan to quality wrestling right now, this is the best time ever to be a fan of the sport.
Find your blend of action and whether it’s ‘Indy’ or not; support your local wrestling. Yes, there is clear bias here and I proudly declare my personal allegiance to Explosive Pro Wrestling. But if you’re on the eastern seaboard of Australia or reading from another continent; get out there and watch local wrestling.
The more you spread the word, the more your friends and family check out what the madness is about, the more wrestling fans around the world can share the great experiences in all corners of the globe (calm down Flat Earthers, it’s just an expression) and who knows? Just maybe before you can blink, that performer you supported at your local will pop up elsewhere in the world to share their gift.
To leave the way we came in, I’ll ask,
“Who is Indy?”
I don’t think there is anything independent about any form of wrestling. Any promotion is made up of a family of talented wrestlers, officials, office staff, volunteers and fans who are all dependent on each other to create shows that share our love for the sport of professional wrestling. So, who needs a label?
You can check out the high-quality local wrestling of EPW ReAwakening this Saturday, November 3; headlined by a Tag Team Ladder Match and a huge Champion vs Champion match for the EPW Championship. Head to https://www.showtickets.com.au/2018/11/03/re-awakening-xvii/ for tickets.
Eric Mack is an EPW columnist and announcer.
He is also 1 Fall Entertainment’s Perth correspondent. Check out 1 Fall Entertainment on Facebook for all the latest Australian wrestling news and views on the international products.