The term “independent wrestling” covers a wide variety of promotions, from nationally recognized companies like EVOLVE, Dragon Gate USA, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and CHIKARA, down to tiny promotions drawing a few dozen fans at local fire halls and high school gyms. Regardless of the size of the audience or the names on the bill, independent promotions fill a vital role in the pro wrestling landscape. In fact, the independents may be more influential today than ever before.
Three if pro wrestling’s biggest breakout stars of the past three years have been CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Austin Aries. All three are former independent wrestling standouts who cut their teeth in tiny venues all across the country. Looking at those three wrestlers, as well as men like Antonio Cesaro, Kassius Ohno, Seth Rollins, and Zema Ion, a case could be made that the indies have been more successful n discovering and grooming new stars than either the WWE or TNA developmental systems.
As WWE and TNA look to develop new stars, both companies have been closely watching the independent circuit. TNA, in particular, has been loading up on independent talent, both in the X-division and the Gut Check series. Athletic, dynamic, and unique indy wrestlers are in demand.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily affect attendance at independent cards, with many promotions struggling to attract 200 fans. Some promotions, such as Traditional Championship Wrestling, Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE, and Ohio’s PRIME Wrestling, have been innovative in their use of eMarketing, social media – such as Facebook and Twitter, have become major marketing tools for promotions that struggle to raise the money to rent a venue and pay talent. Social media is a low-cost alternative to old indy standbys of posting flyers, printing posters, and stuffing leaflets under windshield wipers.
While social media and iPPV can help expose independent companies to new audiences, they are not a cure-all for the biggest problem afflicting the indies, which is the inability to sell tickets. Unfortunately, all too frequently, indy wrestling is hurt by incidents such as the recent APW (Iowa) altercation involving the APW promote, Davey Richards, Kyle O’Reilly and Tony Kozina. Blame could be spread all around in that case, with the wrestlers looking to change their booking on the card, the promoter drawing poor crowds, and the wrestlers ultimately walking out on the show with their pay. Those types of occurrences happen all-too-frequently at smaller indy events, and no-shows and controversy can ruin the gate.
But while almost no independent promotions are consistently selling 1,000-plus tickets, the variety of styles and personalities make independent wrestling a great value for the dollar. The indies are where you can find future WWE superstars competing alongside the likes of Dasher Hatifield, Mr. Ooh La La, and Grizzly Redwood. It’s also the last vestige of the territorial days, where different promotions present different styles of wrestling.
The indies have something for everyone, and that’s the reason they continue to survive – in rare cases- thrive.
Dan Murphy is a Senior Writer for The Wrestler magazine, which now features a new promotion for a limited edition customized logo tote.