Updated: Jul 19, 2020
When you bring up wrestling, everybody immediately knows WWE. They are THE household name when it comes to this form of entertainment, almost synonymous at this point, but what most people don’t understand is that wrestling is so much larger.
There’s nothing wrong with WWE, I love that too. I love all wrestling, but for me there is just something special about indie wrestling and you need to experience it to understand. I’ve been to more WWE and other wrestling shows than I can count at this point from birthday shows with 50 people in the crowd for a local wrestler, to WrestleMania in an arena with 80,000 fans, the show of shows. I enjoy them all, but there is something special about being in the crowd at an indie show for me.
It is very rare when you can pinpoint the exact moment when something in your life clicks, but for me I know the exact moment I found my love for indie wrestling. It was March of 2018 at Absolute Intense Wrestling’s (AIW) Gauntlet for the Gold 13. I had been a wrestling fan when I was younger from about 05 to 07, but as my friends and I got older, we got away from it. Then somewhere in college I got back into it around 2014 and by proxy, a few friends got into it because they enjoyed watching with me and we would even drive to Columbus about an hour and a half away from school to go see WWE shows at Nationwide Arena. We would even drive up to Cleveland or Cincinnati if there were PPVs.
By this time, I had moved home and I was kind of on my own as far as wrestling goes. I didn’t know anyone who was still into it and especially not as much as I was, but I had recently reconnected with someone from high school and we were actually planning a trip to ‘Mania together for that April. I had never been to an indie show and neither had he but Jeff Jarrett was the special guest and he was being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame that year and I remember my buddy asking me to go: “Hey, would you wanna go to this wrestling show at my grade school gym? Jeff Jarrett is gonna be there and I wanna get his autograph” seems like a strange pitch.
So we decided to go and as soon as I walked in, it was like nothing I had ever experienced. It was a wonderland.
It was like finally finding your home after searching for so long. All these huge wrestling fans in one place. You walk into this grade school gymnasium to a ring set up right in the middle with the stage off to one side near the gym locker rooms with a metal barricade and some folding chairs set up around the outside. At this point, I think this was the closest I had ever been to a real wrestling ring, but that’s not the best part, I expected all this. What I didn’t expect was everything else going on around the gym. There were vendors set up selling wrestling action figures and memorabilia and DVDs, the crowd was buzzing.
They were ecstatic to be there, and in my opinion one of the coolest parts about being there is that the wrestlers interact with fans. They set up merch tables and sign autographs. They came out from backstage and interacted with fans in the crowd and watched the show themselves, I had never experienced something like that and I loved it.
It was a community. There was electricity in the air.
Fast Forward to the show and I enjoyed every second of it. It was nothing spectacularly out of the ordinary after being to so many more of their shows, but it was my first and it was special. Right off the bat, MJF was in the opening match. At the time I had no idea who this was, but now I assume most wrestling fans know this despicable heel. I took one look and heard MJF cut a promo and looked at my friend and all I had to say was “He’s gonna be a star.”
MJF put on a great match and Colt Cabana even made an appearance as kayfabe “MJF’s dad” and they played catch in the ring while Cats in the Cradle played. According to the guy sitting next to me, at the previous show, a paternity test had come back positive for Colt Cabana as MJF’s father. I think an argument could be made today for MJF being one of the fastest rising young stars and one of the top heels in the business right now but this was the first time I had ever seen him, and let me tell you what, that man does not break character. EVER. I said hi as we both walked out of the bathroom, and he just flipped me off and walked away. He’s a jerk to everyone he encounters and it works.
The final match before the Gauntlet for the Gold was for the AIW Absolute Championship and this is where it all changed for me. I’ve always liked hardcore matches, and this one opened my eyes because WWE has gone a little more conservative in the past several years. It was a match between Nick Gage and Matthew Justice.
Justice is now the reigning champion and anybody who knows Nick Gage will respond with one phrase: “MDK ALL F---ING DAY.” Nick Gage is the leader of the Murder Death Kill Gang and his fans treat him like he walks on water. This seemed a little intense to me at first, but once I saw him in the ring, I was hooked. It reminded me of the enormous pops I remember seeing on TV when I was younger for guys like Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Gage’s music hit and this guy came out with none of the normal pageantry associated with usual wrestling entrances and a presence you can’t teach, the entire crowd is screaming, not chanting, “NICK F---ING GAGE.” Nick Gage comes out standing tall looking over his domain as champion and you knew there was a fight coming and we got one. They fought all over that school gym even out into the crowd and I was right there on the front lines when they came near me cheering them on. I didn’t know either of these guys, all I knew is that they were throwing it down and I loved it. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. The rush of being so close to the action was amazing. That rush is like a drug, I have never gotten enough and I am always chasing that next high. It was a brutal fight with Nick Gage coming out on top retaining his championship to a chorus of “MDK.”
The final match of the night was the Gauntlet for the Gold which I won’t go into too many details since it was a 30 person match but it was a great mix of wrestling and some seriously funny spots. This match included a lot of wrestlers who have gone on to do great things. Among the highlights were MJF who now wrestles every Wednesday on TNT, DJ Z who now wrestles under the name Joaquin Wilde in NXT, and indie legend Eddie Kingston. Not to mention several other rising stars on the indies right now such as Mance Warner and Dom Garrini who recently joined MLW. One last mention, only because he is an AIW homegrown talent, Big Twan Tucker was also in this match potentially better known as Johnny Gargano’s muscle on that one episode of NXT.
One of my favorite parts was when a wrestler who was announced as Super Oprah came out and starting wrecking everyone in the ring. She was exactly what you would expect, Oprah but a beast. She was a local wrestler and the crowd backed her as if it were The Rock in that ring however she would be quickly eliminated to the disappointment of all the fans.
You never know who is going to show up at a show like this or where someone will go in the future making every show unique. The winner of this match was “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams who now wrestles in ROH and he actually went on to win the belt at AIW’s version of Mania, Absolution, after winning the opportunity in this match. I realized this day there’s some seriously talented guys and girls outside what you see on TV.
If you’ve never been to an indie wrestling show I definitely recommend checking out your local events. Jeff Jarrett may have been the one who opened the door for me, but it was everything else that kept me coming back. It’s something out of the ordinary and I’ve even dragged non wrestling fans along, and they always have fun seeing the show.
The unique aspect of being so close to the ring is unparalleled.
There is nothing wrong with arena shows. I go as often as I can to those as well, however there is something special about these indie shows. The crowd is smaller but seems more passionate, these fans are rabid. It’s too easy to get swept up in the action. If I have one thing I would like to say to every wrestling fan it would be: Go out and support your local wrestlers. Buy a shirt, go to an indie show, try something new. If you like what you see on TV why not try to expand it? I wish I had sooner.
Follow Jon on Twitter @Badger751