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IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: What is it About the Indies?
It's better known in the Internet Wrestling Community than it is to the majority of professional wrestling fans, but for those not in the know, let me introduce you to a part of the wrestling world with which you may not be familiar.
For those of you who think the territorial system is dead because of Vince McMahon, travel around your general area and you may be surprised what you find. All across the country, independent promotions of all shapes, sizes, and styles decorate the wrestling landscape, bringing the joy that is professional wrestling to the local level.
With some members of the wrestling community, the independent scene has an unfair reputation of being nothing but spotfests with eight finisher kickouts a match. While I can't deny that exists in places, it's an unfair judgment to make, because except for the very small minority of wrestlers that get picked out of college football or the Olympics to go straight to developmental, almost all of the wrestlers you see on TV started on the independent circuit in some way or another.
When someone has the dream of being a professional wrestler, the best thing they can do is go to a local training facility and see if they really have what it takes. Most initial wrestling training sessions are rigorous and brutal, so make sure this is something you really want to do, and don't be an asshat to anyone there, because you will get hurt.
Most places that have a training school do so because they're connected to a promotion and like to start wrestlers out that they've trained personally. Homegrown talent is a key for making sure that the crowds they draw become familiar with the local faces. That way, the familiarity will bring the crowds back, instead of just for the particular name that might be the highest advertised that evening.
Some promotions draw a regular crowd of 15-30. Some draw hundreds, some draw thousands. The closest comparison I can make is Minor League Baseball to the WWE's Major League team. The Indies, like the Minor Leagues, are filled with young kids with a ton of talent, old veterans who are never going to make it to the show, and everything in between. Most independent wrestlers will never be on television. The best for which they can hope is being a jobber in a dark match or getting to be a security guard when WWE is in town.
Does this mean that it's not worth going to see?
Absolutely not! Some of the best wrestling I've ever seen has been on independent shows. And some of the most entertainingly bad wrestling I've ever seen has been on independent shows, but that's a different story. I mean, how can you not enjoy a match that ends with an Atomic Wedgie, much the same as I enjoy Tommy Wiseau trying to form words that sound like the English language? It's so awful, it's wonderful. Why do you think I have a ham award?
Most indy shows announce most, if not all, of their card in advance. Sometimes they will have a well-known name on the show; either a TNA wrestler or a former WWE/WCW/ECW name, designed to draw in the casual fan. 99 percent of that time, that name will be in the main event, so the fans stay through intermission to get their autographs, and so the rest of the talent has a chance to steal the show and bring those fans back next time to see the regular roster.
What are the benefits to seeing a good independent show? Well first of all, you're much closer than you would be at a televised event. The average independent show doesn't exactly draw in even house show numbers, so even if you're a few rows out, you're still right there to see the action. Also, unlike most televised shows, the wrestlers will actually interact with you. With no cameras except for the DVD, they have to count one hundred percent on the live crowd for a reaction. It is unlikely that these people have any previous knowledge of this wrestler, so this is a chance to establish whether you're face or heel, a douchebag or a hero, etc. Especially heel wrestlers, they will yell back at you when you scream an insult. This can be some of the most fun interaction you will have in wrestling. Also on the wrestler's part, it's a lot of fun to work a crowd. Being a heel is far more fun, in that you can say almost whatever the hell you want and get away with it as part of the show.
Independent shows also primarily focus on wrestling. Promos do happen, don't get me wrong, but we're not sitting through 20 minute promos, highlight reels, and movie plugs. The focus remains on what goes on in the ring, and you will also see much longer matches than what you're used to. If televised wrestling leaves you with a hunger for longer in-ring action, your local independent promotion may hold the remedy.
Another nice perk to the Indies? In addition to having close access to the wrestlers during the show, most of the roster, including the big names, will come out and hang out during intermission and after the show. For those who aspire to be wrestlers, that's a good time to talk to those who are doing it and learn what you need to know. Well that, or I know of a certain LOP columnist who wrote a book with some chapters elaborating on that... /cheap plug.
If you attend the Indies enough, chances are you're going to see someone before they become a star. There are many names on both rosters that I have already seen and met in person that are now on national television. They may not be known by the same name, but that doesn't stop you from recognizing them. They can call him Antonio Cesaro all they want; he's Claudio Castagnoli, dammit! AYYYYYYE!
Yes, there is some independent wrestling that is downright bad. Yes, there is some independent wrestling that is all spotfests by guys skinnier than most of the refs on television. Yes, sometimes you do have to sit through some truly godawful shit that you'll wonder why you paid money to see it. But if you find a good promotion worth following, you'll see some of the best wrestling for which you could ever hope up close and personal. Some of the greatest matches I've ever seen have been in the company of 200 people in a gym. Those memories will last just as long as the televised matches I've seen, and likely hold a greater fondness because I got to know a lot of the participants, and even become friends with a few of them, including ones about whom you've heard stories since the inception of this column.
Point being, don't let stereotypes and generalizations scare you off from independent wrestling. Sometimes the quality may not be as good, but there's a real passion for it. Everyone doing it is still in that stage where it's for the love of the business, because chances are they aren't getting paid much, if at all, at this point. It's worth it.