In Defense of Indy Wrestling

Have you ever looked up the dictionary definition of the word “independent”? I have (because I am a nerd and love stuff like this) and it’s extensive.

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I started a conversation this past week with some folks on twitter about the definition of “independence” in regards to “independent wrestling”, and ended up with dozens of different definitions and a lot to think about. I’ve been sitting on this blog post ever since, as I ruminate what might actually be “independent” about wrestling, if anything at all.

All of the answers to the question of why we call anything that does not fall directly and totally under the umbrella of WWE “independent wrestling” are valid: a past promotion’s relationship to the NWA, the ability of the performers to work as independent contractors for different promoters, or simply being backed by financiers who are not affiliated with the WWE as a business. But no one definition paints a clear picture of every promotion that has been called, or is currently being called, independent. Some of these promotions, like Wrestle Circus in Austin, Texas and Progress in London, England are selling out upwards of five hundred seats per show. Some promotions are lucky if they even get one hundred members of their local community out, and still put on an incredible show for each person who shows up to support them. How do promotions with high production quality, who stream online live or are available via an on-demand service, end up lumped in with promotions whose shows might only exist for posterity on DVD, if at all?

The one thing all of the promotions that we regularly hear referred to as “independent wrestling” seem to have in common is this: they are still dependent on the loyalty of their fanbase to sustain them. In fact, the thing that qualifies them as “indy” is, ostensibly, their level of interdependence between the performers, the promotions, and the fans. Much like theater, wrestling requires a constant transfer of money and energy from the audience to the company or space and then to the performer and back again. When a company grows to the point of being kept afloat by financial backers who operate independent of the audience’s desires, or when the company moves into other ventures that provide enough income that the funding provided by the fans become secondary, we become irrelevant in terms of the business model.

Even more than the stasis of the fan/promoter/wrestler relationship, independent wrestling also creates a sense of belonging for all parties. It becomes a sense of “we” instead of “them” and “us”. While wrestling as a genre of performance has always had its dividing lines between performer and audience, independent wrestling (particularly today) has bred a movement in which promotions adopt wrestlers and fans alike and build a sense of family. This feeling – this atmosphere – is not unlike the sense of a “scene” in the music industry. You start to see the same faces over again as you regularly attend shows, in the ring, behind merch tables and tickets stands, and in the seats. This is what independent wrestling becomes about: wrestlers who sell their own merch, the fans who bring the streamers and know all the chants, the promoters who treat their performers and audiences with respect and provide them a safe environment to both do and enjoy this thing called wrestling.

All over the world, independent wrestling is growing in new and interesting ways. You would have to be asleep not to know that the UK wrestling scene is on the rise in a massive way, but what is happening there is not the same as the renaissance southern wrestling is having in the US, which is drastically different than what’s going on right now on the west coast. There are subgenres inside of this giant thing we call “the indies” where promoters, performers, and fans are putting their own unique spins on things. But even as these pockets develop, there is crossover – wrestlers and fans traveling the world, people with subscriptions to on demand services from thousands of miles away, cross-promotion shows that mix styles and storylines. This is how you create a healthy scene; you try new things, mix different ways of doing things together. Championships become universally recognized. The scene grows. But always it is about the interdependence – the inter-promotional relationships of everyone involved.

I thought about calling this blog post “screw indy wrestling” which would have been a horribly click-bait thing to do. I think we should defend indy wrestling, because it’s really what’s keeping this art form alive. I will never knock WWE as a way for a LOT of people to access pro wrestling, and for many its the ONLY way to access wrestling. But the greatest thing for the indy wrestling scene is for everyone involved – anyone who wrestles, puts up a ring, designs a shirt, owns a promotion, buys a ticket, runs a podcast, or writes a blog – to remember that the machine doesn’t run without ALL OF US. We as fans have to not only go to shows or watch them online, but we have to talk about them and share them with one another. We have to encourage our local promoters to bring in new faces from far away and let them try something new. Promoters should be trying not only to hone their unique vision for wrestling, but be open that the thing that will set you apart – that will make a name for you – is something you haven’t seen or considered yet. Listen to your audience when they tell you what they will be willing to pay you to bring them. It might change the whole game for you. And wrestlers, keep going to new places and learning new things. Take them back home with you and blow your favorite crowds away. Rinse, repeat.

Independent wrestling needs you to remember you ARE it, all of you – together. That’s how you can defend it, no matter how you define it.

– The Lady J Says

Progress: Chapters 16-30 Best Matches

 I think it’s time for another list of favorite matches, wouldn’t you say? Let’s break down the best matches (in my humble opinion) from chapters 16-30! Keep an eye out for our favorites from 31-45 in April, and expect an overall best of list in May!

Chapter 17: Zach Gibson vs. Flash Morgan Webster in the 2nd Natural Progression Final

The rivalry that exists between Zach Gibson and Flash Morgan Webster is brilliant. It’s full of tension and aggression, but also showcases both of their talents beautifully. By the time we see them challenging Will Ospreay for the Progress Championship in Chapter 24, they have both become fan favorites, as babyface and heel.

Chapter 19: The London Riots vs. Jimmy Havoc & Paul Robinson

This match included so much great callback stuff from the course of the Havoc title run, that it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me not to love it. Marry it with all of the hard work from the London Riots after their big return at Chapter 18, and naturally it’s going to make my top 3 matches of all of Progress – if not all time.

Chapter 19: Jinny vs. Pollyanna (No DQ)

The first time we EVER get a women’s match on a Chapter show at Progress, it is a No DQ match, and the payoff from an incredible stretch of storytelling from Jinny, Elizabeth, and Pollyanna. Not only do these women prove they BELONG on the main show, they prove that women can steal the show – and hang with even the most sick and twisted of the gentlemen.

Chapter 20: Jimmy Havoc vs. Will Ospreay (Progress Championship)

It would be foolish of me not to include what might be the greatest, most cathartic title change in the history of Progress. Jimmy Havoc as the finally-conquered Big Bad and Will Ospreay as the Boy King are two monumental characters that will never be topped. This is Progress, for sure.

Chapter 21: Jimmy Havoc vs. Paul Robinson (No DQ)

I have a hard time believing there will ever be a match I love more than this one. Not just in Progress, but in all of wrestling. Fair warning – this No DQ match quickly becomes a deathmatch and features the most blood out of all 30 of the chapters I’ve watched so far. But it also features just as much catharsis as the Havoc/Ospreay match from 20, and the Riots/Havoc/Robinson match from 19 – only in a different way. This one is the punctuation on the end of the Havoc storyline, and leaves us waiting to see where it will all go from here.

Chapter 25: Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll (Progress Championship)

This was a match that I IMMEDIATELY wanted to watch again as soon as it ended. While it didn’t feature a moment of catharsis the way some of my other favorites do, it DOES feature the crux of the Villain character, as he ascends to his first Progress title win. He also cements himself as a different heel from Jimmy Havoc, and the Reign of the Villain begins.

Chapter 26: South Pacific Power Couple vs. Flash Morgan Webster & Pollyanna

It’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on twitter that I am a huge supporter of inter-gender wrestling. This match not only elevates the South Pacific Power Couple by showing they can hang with the likes of Flash Morgan Webster and Pollyanna, but also is a wonderful example of how powerful inter-gender matches can be. There is some beautiful storytelling in this match, and some really stunning tag work from Dahlia Black and TK Cooper, in particular.

Chapter 28: Marty Scurll vs. Tommy End

How do you find an opponent for an unbeatable villain? You separate a very scary man from his tag partner, and then give him a chance to show what he can do without the title on the line. While the story of Tommy vs Marty progresses, we are also reminded of what a strong singles competitor Tommy is, and how close Marty can come to losing everything he worked so hard to steal.

Chapter 30: The Origin vs. The London Riots (Tag Team Championships)

Bet all your money that, should the London Riots be in a tag match of Day 1 at Super Strong Style 16 this year, they’re winning. After a tremendous showing rocking Havoc & Robinson at Chapter 19, they go on to have a tremendous, fun, and exciting match against The Origin that culminates in them winning the tag titles. It is well deserved and the perfect way to end Day 1.

Chapter 30: Chris Hero vs. Tommy End (Round 3)

“J, how could you not pick Chris Hero vs. Mark Andrews?” Chris vs. Mark is a GREAT match, no doubt. But Hero/End is everything I could ever want in a singles match. It’s violent as hell, stiffer than anything else on the card, and has so much emotion behind it because of their friendship that it’s hard not to stand and applaud, even in the comfort of your own home, when it’s all over. Now THAT is great wrestling.

– The Lady J Says

The Other Side of the Table

You know what a long drive through Western Pennsylvania needs? A pop-punk playlist, a particularly stunning sunset, and a friend to do the driving while you write a blog post about the incredible weekend you just had. Check, check, and check.

My roommate and I drove the nine hours from Washington, D.C. to Toronto, ON on Friday in order to attend Smash Wrestling’s F8tful Eight event on Saturday. The trip was an absolute blast – I absolutely recommend Smash to anyone who finds themselves in Toronto – and it’s hard to go home now. But I learned a lot the last two days, about myself and my perspective, so there’s a lot of work to do when I get back.

I became the Lady J nearly three years ago, simply to create a separate place to discuss my thoughts on wrestling that wasn’t going to annoy my friends who weren’t part of the fandom. What that name means has grown exponentially since then, as I find each aspect of my life becoming more and more tied to the wrestling community. I assume, going into this trip, that I was going to Smash in order to accompany some new fans, advocate for inclusion in their promotion, and see some great matches. But you know what they say about assumptions.

My roommate has two friends from his graduate program that live in or near Toronto, and I found myself sharing a few meals with the three of them. These are brilliant science people, who know little or nothing about wrestling. They have many advanced degrees between them, and one of them had just been working toward becoming an astronaut. I was, intimidated at first, sitting across the breakfast table from all of their knowledge and I felt a little silly saying I was in town for wrestling. But once I did, they asked questions and wanted to discuss the community and my place in it. They wanted to know everything about the PWGrrrlGang and what it’s like being a female fan. One of them told me, when I insinuated what I was doing was nothing compared to becoming an astronaut or being an astrobiologist, that “every community, even science, needs an advocate.” In this community, that advocate is me. I should be proud, she told me. And I am.

Once at the show, I quickly discovered Smash Wrestling didn’t need me to advocate to or for them. They are a self-aware promotion and work hard to create a welcoming environment. The fans are quite diverse and very much like a family – they take care of one another, even if they’re on opposing sides of a match. They love their wrestlers, too, and are grateful to everyone who comes to their home to bless them with the gift of a beautiful match. It felt more like I was meant to be there to learn something than to teach anything. Right now, the PWGrrrlGang is a me, a twitter handle, a t-shirt shop, and a promotion in Canada. But people will adopt it and make it their own. It will evolve and change to fit the needs of the community. I won’t be at the next Smash show because they don’t need me. The PWGrrrlGang is in safe hands there, and I hope Karyn and Dan can help to welcome lots of new faces into the crowd.

I also learned, standing at a merch table, that if you want to have an influence on your community, you have to accept that people are going to be listening. You can’t be shy about who it is that reads your blog or listens to your podcast, even if it’s the promoters or wrestlers themselves. If we want to bring attention to issues we think are important in wrestling, it is not enough to simply discuss them among ourselves as fans. It is essential to be willing to have these conversations with people who have influence or power of their own, to stand up and say in both an eloquent and digestible way what we feel the problems are and how we would like to see them addressed. I endeavor to never become complacent with what I have already achieved, and know there is still more work to be done, more ears to bend, and to speak up whenever I can. More than anything, I hope to encourage other people to do the same. Talk to your local promoters when there is a problem, and also when something is going great. Work toward speaking to the wrestlers you admire at shows: treating them with respect and gratitude can breed the same in return. A mutual admiration society is a great way to create a safe space and an open dialogue, should you need one.

Finally, I found myself sitting with my mentor at a small cafe in my tiny old college town before the six hour drive back home. We spoke at length about what I was doing, and his interests in all of my projects. He has no connection to wrestling as a fan, but finds the sociological aspects to be fascinating. As we discussed the weekend and my experiences, he asked what was next; what was my goal? My answers were long and meandering, as I was really answering them for the first time – even to myself. I thought about sitting across from the scientists in Toronto, and standing next to the wrestlers at Smash, and then looked across the table at him. I thought about how my position has altered in two and a half years, and where I am now. And where I can be.

I know what it’s like to be a female wrestling fan. I know what it’s like to be marginalized, sexualized, harassed, and ignored. I know what the PWGrrrlGang does is important and I know that it will grow with time. I don’t know what it’s like to be a wrestler, or a promoter. I don’t know how to reconcile the things we, as fans, want to see happen at shows in order to feel safe and welcome with the way a wrestling business is run. But I want to. I don’t want to know the finish to a match, or who is winning a title. I want to know how wrestlers feel about working in places where the crowd uses racial slurs. I want to know how promoters deal with crowds or performers who can get out of control. The only way to find these things out is to keep writing, keep talking to people, and do it tirelessly. Maybe there is no perfect solution. There are probably tons of people out there who don’t want to talk to me because they don’t believe in what I do, or they think I expect them to martyr themselves. There might just be, however, a few people who are willing to discuss these things with me. Whatever it is they have to say, I am willing to listen and work with them.

A few months ago I wrote a post about how there were no mentors for women writers, there was no one who could tell me, or anyone like me, what to do in order to get people to listen. There was no precedent for something like the PWGrrrlGang in our community. Now we’re here, on the other side of the table. We’ve done a lot together already. So where do we go next? That’s easy.

We go further.

The Lady J Says