In the last week I have been lucky enough to go to both The Collective in Indianapolis and the AEW one year anniversary show down in Jacksonville. In going to these shows, I realized how the entire wrestling landscape, specifically indie wrestling, has changed during this pandemic. We are seeing wrestling in its new form sort of all at once due to the circumstances surrounding it.
If you ask me these changes are all amazing for wrestling and I can’t to see where it leads us.
There are several reasons I can point to as to what caused these changes but, I am going to start with AEW simply existing. When this pandemic hit, AEW was truly still in its infancy. They only did shows with fans for about 5 months before having to adapt to a situation without fans, which I think they did pretty well comparatively speaking to other promotions in similar positions. Impact still doesn’t have any fans, virtual or in person, including wrestlers, and WWE has gone to this ThunderDome nonsense.
If you ask me, having the other wrestlers in the crowd for the show is awesome because it at least gives you the feeling that there is a crowd watching. Hell I’ve been to shows where the crowds look like they do on Wednesday nights. When I say that AEW was simply existing, what I mean is that WWE has been the absolute top dog with nobody in sight behind them for so long that many people don’t even realize there is other wrestling out there. AEW existing is enough to make people realize that there are other options, and I will go into a few reasons on top of that why they are helping, but just existing opens the door.
If you’ve read any of my other articles, you will quickly realize I am not a huge fan of how WWE operates, however you still have to acknowledge that they are the top dogs in the business. Even AEW isn’t near them in terms of size and influence, but they are big enough for people to notice. I am most thankful to Tony Khan and the entire AEW organization for one specific thing: allowing their talent to go to other places to work. I assume they have some sort of say in what they do. I’m not in the meetings or reading contracts, but I can’t assume the talent is just running around taking bookings on their own.
This past weekend I went to The Collective in Indiana, put on by GCW and several other promotions. It was 3 days straight of independent wrestling shows at 25% capacity. During the course of the weekend, I saw Joey Janela, Orange Cassidy, Jon Moxley, Sonny Kiss, Marko Stunt, and a few other people that have been featured on Dynamite or Dark such as Warhorse, Suge D aka Pineapple Pete, and Elayna Black. Simply allowing these people to go out and do other bookings brings eyes to other wrestling promotions, and I can’t be grateful enough for this as a die hard indie fan.
I saw Jon Moxley go one on one with Chris Dickinson at Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport. Seeing the champion of a major promotion on the indies is absolutely unheard of, but I did it in front of maybe 500 people. That’s news in itself in the wrestling world. In the same vein, I also appreciate that AEW brings in independent talent for Dark and occasionally for Dynamite like for Cody’s open TNT Championship challenges. This brings wrestlers into that spotlight that normally wouldn’t get that rub, and it is rarely a squash match. I mention it isn’t a squash match because this sets the stage that AEW isn’t the only option for people and there is other wrestling.
AEW has even shown PWG clips in promo packages. There are other promotions out there that may be putting on something you like and if you like what you see, do a little research and find more of this person. I don’t think this old saying quite applies anymore with cancel culture being so prevalent but in this case it does: no publicity is bad publicity. Even if you lose your match on Dark, that doesn’t mean you are going to look bad and it’s going to get you in front of more viewers than you probably would have otherwise.
I personally feel like AEW ravaged the indies in coming into existence, but it’s to be expected when starting something like this. We aren’t in the territories anymore with fairly relevant promotions across the country; we’re in a connected world with very regional promotions that can broadcast to a large audience. I would definitely say there are more promotions now than then, however I’m not sure the talent pool is larger. Many people work for many companies, really as many as possible I would assume. I would compare this to when WWF came along and signed up all the territories top guys and consolidated to become the powerhouse we know today.
When this pandemic hit, the indies were in a state of rebuilding in my opinion. Then this pandemic hit and we had to put just about all indie wrestling on hold.
Now we’re adapting to this pandemic and the new class of indie wrestlers are set. People have been watching clips online for 6 months and there's a whole new crop of indie talent here to tear it down. I had seen just about every member of the Second Gear Crew several times live before the pandemic and they were always popular, but when these guys came out at The Collective, anytime any of them came out, they were welcomed like god damn rockstars. If you are unfamiliar with SGC, get familiar. It’s the faction of Matthew Justice, Mance Warner, Effy, One Called Manders, and AJ Gray - and these guys are killing it.
Then you have a new crew of very young performers coming up too like Billie Starkz, Starboy Charlie, and Logan Stunt, brother of Marko Stunt. Maybe the crowds are just hyped up after being cooped up for so long, but I think it’s bigger than that. The indies have been elevated by AEW allowing them to be acknowledged. Not to mention the AEW talent did not win every match they were in.
The next thing I would like to point out are the WWE releases over the past 6 to 12 months. Personally, I cannot remember a time where a wrestler I really liked was in their prime and people still wanted to see them go but they were released. It seems most people that left WWE over the past 10 years were more in the category of Enzo or Austin Aries where there’s a reason, but if you look at WWE releases, specifically the large cutbacks in April during the pandemic, there’s a lot of talent people want to see. Just about every promotion benefitted from the releases.
Impact made out like bandits signing The Good Brothers, Brian Myers, EC3, Eric Young, and I’m sure others I’m forgetting. AEW has definitely benefitted with Cardona, Miro, FTR, and Mr. Brodie Lee. And the indies have definitely benefitted by these talents being available once again. These guys being former WWE talents definitely boosts their brands, just being in WWE gains you at least some name recognition which can now be leveraged for a fan base that still wants to see them. Not to mention there seems to be a crew of older wrestlers making a decent showing for themselves.
I saw JTG, one half of Cryme Tyme, vs Trey Miguel last weekend, and they tore the house down. I’m gonna get on my soapbox here about Ricky Morton because he has become one of my favorite guys on the indie scene right now. If you would have told me 2 years ago Ricky Morton would be killing the game at 64 years old, I would have laughed in your face.
If you have not watched Morton’s match with Janela from last weekend at Spring Break, why are you even reading this article? Go watch the match.
I got to see Rock n Roll Express vs Santana and Ortiz at Spring Break last year and Morton vs Janela this year and not to mention Rock n Roll Express won the NWA tag team titles for the 5 time in 2019, and Morton has impressed me every step of the way. He continues to improve his game and get better. Everyone in wrestling can stand to learn a little from the passion and dedication Ricky Morton has. He continues to learn new moves and stay relevant and put his body on the line. The man brought out a freaking door in his Spring Break match. Ricky Morton is one of us. If I can be a fraction of that cool when I’m 64, I’ll take it.
Funny story, my aunts dressed as the Rock n Roll Express when they were about 10, and my grandparents took them to the show and now I’m seeing this guy still kill it. He’s one of my favorites now, I really respect his dedication to wrestling. He could show up and hit his famous spots and get cheered, but he pushes it and puts on a damn good show every time he laces up those boots.
Now my final point is a little bit of a call back to my previous article about how WWE controls the history of wrestling. For the first time in my memory of watching wrestling, which admittedly only started in about 2006, there is a relevant part of wrestling history outside of WWE. The NWA is making a comeback. NWA is a huge part of wrestling history that has been almost forgotten today. It definitely has not, but it might as well have. They haven't done anything in nearly 3 decades, probably since August 94 when Shane Douglas threw down the title and denounced it. But guess what? Thunder Rosa has been proudly displaying that NWA Women's Championship on AEW.
You know what else is back in existence? The FTW title and Taz. It came as a total shock to me and I’m sure many others when the FTW belt debuted on Dynamite, but damn was I excited. I am a huge ECW mark and seeing that title made me pop. I even got a replica belt signed by Taz at Starrcast before Double or Nothing 2019. This is just about the only belt WWE doesn’t own from the past 25 years that has any relevancy. It may not be the most important belt, but it is still a throwback to the ECW days and people should know about it.
Besides these titles, it is also amazing to see some talents get a new beginning. Look at the managers in AEW. We have Jake the Snake, Taz, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard. That's 2 of the 4 horseman and 2 legends of the business. I mean they just released Jake the Snake in WWE legends series 8.
It’s great to see the bubble of wrestling history expanding every week.
This is the first time in my lifetime there is something besides WWE to watch that I can remember. I was alive during the Attitude Era, but I was too young to get into it without an older brother or cousin or parent or something. I very vividly remember asking to watch wrestling when I was younger and my parents telling me it was inappropriate. Honestly, I do not blame them watching the Attitude Era now.
So all I have to say is we are set for some amazing indie wrestling coming up in the next couple of years. Hopefully the appetite of AEW has been settled and WWE will not continue to sign up talent to keep toys away from the other kids. Last weekend made me remember how much I love the indies and I can’t wait for the next Collective weekend. I will be there no matter what. I’m ready to ride or die for indie wrestling.
Follow Jon on Twitter @Badger751