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

Progress: The Art of the Babyface Turn

On my journey to watching all of the shows that Progress Wrestling in the UK has produced, I have hit a major turning point: I’ve just finished Chapter 20. If you HAVEN’T, stop reading now. Trust me – you want to experience this unspoiled.

 

After finishing the main event, and crying my eyes out (not an exaggeration – that was some serious emotional catharsis from a wrestling/storytelling perspective) I had pages upon pages of notes. My Facelock Feministas podcast co-host, Courtney, and I will talk about all of them, I’m sure, on the next episode. But there was one thing I’ve been turning over and over again in my head.

While a tremendous credit is owed to Jimmy Havoc for helming the storyline that played out from Chapter 2 to Chapter 20, as well as his opponent Will Ospreay (who remarkably ALSO debuted on Chapter 2) and Progress MC & co-owner Jim Smallman, there are a lot of supporting characters who played pivotal roles in the journey of the Progress title and, arguably, one of the best story arcs in independent wrestling. It featured some of the biggest names in wrestling today, like Marty Scurll and Zack Sabre Jr. It gave some of us foreigners a chance to fall in love with UK wrestlers we didn’t know as much about like Rampage Brown, Dave Mastiff, and Paul Robinson. It even gave me a window into guys I knew only a little about, like Noam Dar and Mark Andrews, and allowed me the chance to become a real fan of their work. But as someone who was guaranteed to develop an affinity for both Havoc and Ospreay as performers during this 18-chapter run, who thought she knew how she would feel when it was all “over”, it was The London Riots who stole my heart.

The London Riots ALSO debuted in Chapter 2, with a match against the Velocity Vipers (one of whom is a terribly young Will Ospreay). The Riots are two big guys with a powerful moveset and a mean streak a mile wide, something that doesn’t necessarily attract me as a fan when it comes to tag-team wrestling. (I am not, for example, terribly interested in The Authors of Pain or War Machine.) But two common threads that exists through all of the Progress roster – singles competitors and tag teams, both men and women alike – is their desire to put on a stellar, show-stealing performance and the stunning intelligence with which they approach wrestling. The London Riots are no exception to this rule, creating vicious, exciting matches that both infuriate fans and stimulate their imaginations. Their ability to wrestle any number of tag teams or singles competitors and routinely deliver some of the best tag matches I’ve ever had the privilege to watch is, therefore, not surprising in the least.

Rob Lynch and James Davis put their first-class abilities to good use during the story involving Jimmy Havoc and his run with the Progress title, though it’s entirely possible to push them from the forefront of your mind while you’re watching. This is not to say they are not incredible, or that they are unimportant, but rather that they seamlessly fold their gifts into the larger story. They enhance everything they touch without pulling focus, which is such a subtle nuance I struggle to find another instance of it in my wrestling lexicon that is remotely comparable. They start out as the Monster Heels of Progress, wrecking every tag team opponent the promotion throws at them. The fans boo them and turn their backs when they enter The Garage and Jim Smallman becomes increasingly more frustrated as he and his business partners search for a way to eliminate the Riots from their roster forever. Naturally, one way is to split them up, with Lynch losing a Last Man Standing match to Danny Garnell and James Davis being taken to his limit before eventually overcoming the still-babyface Jimmy Havoc. It is therefore all the more painful to see Havoc not only turn on the Progress team and its fanbase, but to align himself with these awful heels, whom the crowd thought were gone for good. When the London Riots lift Jimmy up onto their shoulders with the Progress title over his head, the temperature in the room seems to drop several degrees: a long, hard winter has set in at Progress.

Over the next five chapters, Havoc’s enforcers bring chaos wherever they go, including to the ENDVR shows, to rain suffering down on the likes of Eddie Dennis and the Bhangra Knights. Their enjoyment at assisting Havoc in causing chaos throughout Progress seems to abruptly halt when Jimmy brings a knife to a fist fight in order to torture Will Ospreay after the Riots beat Screw Indy Wrestling, Project Ego, and the Swords of Essex to become the number 1 contenders for the tag titles.

It is here you see a crack in the Riots’ facade – that Havoc is willing to go far past the kind of punishment the Riots are comfortable inflicting creates a separation between them, however subtle. It is therefore really no surprise when two chapters later we see Paul Robinson sacrifice James Davis in order to save Havoc and his title reign in a Career vs. Title match against Ospreay, Noam Dar, and team FSU. As the Riots stand over the Progress logo in the middle of the ring, that cold feeling suddenly dissipates and something shifts; they seem genuinely devastated to have to leave, and the crowd seems sorry to send them off. They may have been two of the biggest baddies in the promotion, but they still BELONG to the Progress crowd in a strange way. Davis and Lynch hesitate before heading up the steps to the exit and it’s hard not to feel that we’ve witnessed an important change.

Over the next three chapters, the tag titles move from FSU to The Faceless, and it seems clear that the Riots have left a sizable hole in the tag team division at Progress. Meanwhile, Havoc manages to retain his title against the likes of Rampage Brown, Dave Mastiff, Marty Scurll, Noam Dar, and even the chosen one of Progress, Will Ospreay. After winning a particularly nasty six-way match, Havoc by Morgan Webster that it’s always best to have an insurance policy.

Enter the London Riots.

This is one of the biggest pops I’ve ever heard from the Progress crowd while watching the shows on demand. The London Riots belong to this crowd. They have been with Progress since the beginning. They have bled and bumped and fought on to entertain these people, and now they truly are the Progress fans’ team. Jim Smallman welcomes them back with open arms, and announces that Havoc and his henchman Paul Robinson will face off against the Riots at the inaugural Super Strong Style 16 tournament.

The London Riots vs. Jimmy Havoc and Paul Robinson is my favorite match in Progress thus far, and might actually be my favorite match of all time. Seems a pretty lofty claim to make, but if you know anything regarding what I love most about wrestling, it doesn’t seem so strange at all. It’s one of the most brutal matches this side of hardcore that I’ve ever seen, which falls directly into my wheelhouse as a fan. In terms of storytelling and character work, though, it is completely brilliant. The London Riots might be the only comparable characters in Progress (up to this point) to Jimmy Havoc in terms of madness. Obviously, they draw a line far sooner than he does on what they think is fair play in terms of the sort of violence they inflict on others on the roster, but they are 100% willing to put their own bodies – their own well being – on the line in order to achieve their goal. Knowing that Jimmy has no limits is like being granted permission to forgo their own limits as well. They even take the time to work outside of their normal moveset, which feels like a nod at anyone who would ask “what have you two been doing the last three shows” because the answer is, of course, plotting revenge. When Rob Lynch uses an Acid Rainmaker on Havoc, it proves that they were paying attention when he was their leader, and that there is no one you want less as an enemy than someone who used to be your right hand man.

Five chapters earlier, Noam Dar showed us all that Jimmy Havoc was fallible. Even though he didn’t win the match, he got Havoc to tap out, and we all saw it. What the Riots proved was that somewhere deep down inside, the old Havoc – the one James Davis put away in a hardcore match back in Chapter 8 – still existed. He could be weakened, he could be surprised, and he could be defeated. It took two of them, their District Line finisher, and the cheers of 700 Progress fans but Havoc was pinned right there in the middle of the ring at the end of the match. The London Riots were heroes. They had widened the crack that had been created by Noam Dar and would eventually break Havoc in half thanks to Will Ospreay. When the Riots joined Ospreay at ringside for the main event of Chapter 20, you knew the end was near – Ospreay couldn’t beat Havoc alone, but he was flanked by the only two men who had managed the unthinkable since Havoc’s title reign began.

Heel turns are awesome. They can be a ton of fun to watch, and can create heroes out of mere men (i.e. Havoc & Ospreay). But if you want to see something truly amazing, take a heel that the crowd loves to hate, someone sick and twisted in their own rite, and find a way to turn them babyface. Watching a heel get his comeuppance is great fun. Watching a babyface finally receive the admiration from the crowd that they always deserved is even better.

Thank you, Riots, indeed.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

2016

Amid an absolute swarm of year-end lists and review podcasts (Facelock Feministas included) I decided to do one more blog post for 2016 but wasn’t sure what to write about. I got a number of great suggestions (by far, my favorite was “best hair of 2016”) and it was hard to narrow down exactly how I wanted to round out the year.

This morning, I received a tweet from a friend’s locked account (so I won’t be sharing a screen shot here.) It was very simple, and not a response to anything I, or anyone else, had said. It was the sentiment that moved me very nearly to tears, though: the presence of the #PWGrrrlGang had helped this person enjoy wrestling in 2016.

My contribution to the wrestling community is limited. I don’t have a lot of money to travel often or see as many shows as I’d like. I certainly am not athletically gifted or of the body type where you’d ever see me inside a ring. I don’t possess a mind for business that would lend to running a promotion. But I know how to advocate for people who need help, and I can write. That, in its most basic form, was how the #PWGrrrlGang was born. I wanted to create something that brought people together, that created positive discussions, and that gave people that had been feeling alone in the fandom a sense of community and belonging.

Inadvertently, I helped myself along the way. Writing and podcasting as often as I do has bettered my craft. I have also made a lot of wonderful friends who I know I can count on for thought-provoking conversation, for checking my ego, and for encouraging me when I get down on myself. There is a family here; one I am so proud to be a part of.

Many thanks are owed to EVERYONE who has used the #PWGrrrlGang tag, who has responded to or shared my work, and/or who tunes into the podcast. You are each incredible and the community would not be the place it is now without you. You’ve all inspired me with your varied backgrounds and outlooks to give me, to work harder.

In 2017, the PWGrrrlGang will be giving back – to the fans, the promotions, and the performers. There is much more work to be done, so please know I am here for the long haul. We have built something amazing this past year, all of us together, and I feel strongly that we have set into motion tremendous changes for the industry and the fandom. One day, there will be people of all walks of life who feel safe and included at independent and large-scale wrestling shows; people who maybe won’t know what we all did together, but who get to exist in a safe and inclusive fandom. By then the phrase “PWGrrrlGang” and even The Lady J may be long gone. But that’s the thing about a legacy. “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Who knows what the world might look like then. For now, I have high hopes that next year is going to look pretty good.

Best wishes for health and happiness for all in the coming year (and always).

With kindest regards & gratitude,

The Lady J

 

An Artist Debuts

This past weekend was an absolute whirlwind of wrestling for me. It was my first time making the trip to see two separate promotions in two separate cities on back to back days. If you’re interested in checking out NOVA Pro’s NOVA Project 2 pre-show, that’s up here on the Facelock Feministas YouTube channel. If you caught Chikara’s The Black Goodbye either live or on Facebook, just know I’m going to do a blog post about that later on in the week.

My friend Kate (who most of you know as MakeItLoud on Twitter, and from her fabulous RAW Breakdown Project) and I have had plenty of time lately with all of the long car rides we’ve been taking to discuss wrestling at great lengths. We’ve talked about bookings, about promotions, about storytelling, about women as wrestlers, creatives, and fans. But the topic we seem to keep returning to is the unique relationship between the performers themselves and the fanbase. In wrestling, the way we as fans interact with promotions and wrestlers is unlike the way the fans of just about anything else interact with the things they are a fan of. Not only are these individuals and companies available to us through social media and video productions that are widely accessible, but also through live and in-person performances and interactions. Many fans feel a connection with specific promotions or performers, and while most often that manifests itself in terms of admiration, some cool fan art, and really wild cheers at live shows, it can also contort into a sense of entitlement and ownership.

Spoiler alert: I don’t know any wrestlers personally. You could argue my most direct connection to any wrestler is through attendance at the NOVA Pro shows and through doing the podcast. I don’t know anything about these people’s personal lives and we don’t socialize outside of that environment. I am just a fan. But I feel a deep sense of pride in them when they achieve something within this industry – even without titles or tournaments. When they have a particularly stupendous match and you can see it on their face afterwards how proud they are, it’s infectious.

I’m a lady with a blog and a podcast. I like to discuss the performance aspect of wrestling (see also: my Facelock Feministas review of the Weapons of Mass Destruction match on Lucha Underground.) I like to discuss the gender biases within the industry and within the fanbase (see also: the #PWGrrrlGang.) I also like to have fun, which is why – if you are a wrestler – there is a chance you’ve heard me talking about your butt on Twitter. Sorry. (#NotSorry) I am deeply appreciative of the fact that the first (and hopefully only) person who has called me out on this in person is Cedric Alexander.

I’ve seen Cedric Alexander perform live in three different promotions now: I saw him at AAW in Chicago back in June, I saw him wrestle at Chikara’s King of Trios earlier this month, and for the better part of this summer, Cedric was appearing at the monthly NOVA pro shows, wrestling our own fan favorites as well as outside talent, like Shane Strickland. Cedric never once had a bad match with anyone. Cedric’s style, his presence both in the ring and outside of it, and his willingness to interact with fans whether they are lining up for an autograph and photo or yelling Kota Ibushi’s name at him while he’s wrestling, paint a picture of someone who is truly dedicated to his art form. That’s the best way I can describe Cedric: he’s an artist.

When he was announced as being a part of the Cruiserweight Classic, it was natural for me to cheer for him. Before a single episode had aired, none of us were 100% sure what the outcome would be – not only who would win, but what the prize would be. I had hope that Cedric would do well, whatever the bigger picture might have in store for all of the participants. So to then discover that while he did not win the tournament outright, that he WOULD be debuting today, September 19th, on Monday Night RAW as part of the new Cruiserweight division made me incredibly proud. Not all wrestlers have the same goals or aspirations, but we as their fans and supporters hope that they make their craft sustainable; we want them to be able to do nothing but wrestle and feed their families through their art. We know that for many of them, working with WWE is not only a childhood dream, but the place where money and wrestling come together to create that sustainability.

From my tiny place within this giant industry, all I can hope is that hardworking individuals who genuinely love their fans and want to create a body of beautiful work with a variety of opponents are the people who reap the rewards. The current list of cruiserweights making up this new division is quite diverse – the styles and background of each competitor speak for themselves – but I feel strongly that Cedric will rise as a leader among them. I look forward to what their division will bring as a whole to RAW, and who they may inspire to pursue a career in wrestling. They have also left a sizable hole in the independent scene, and I eagerly anticipate who will fill the space they’ve left behind. (I’ll also be keeping an eye out for the new best booty of the indies, of course. Don’t think I’ve totally turned into a mush.)

It is hard to be a wrestling fan a lot of the time. It’s an expensive fandom to exist in where your heart will be broken, bad decisions will be made, other fans will make you crazy, and people you care deeply for will get injured. You can often feel like a tiny, unheard voice shouting amidst a sea of other opinionated characters, with just as much passion or fervor as the next person, but no one to listen. Sometimes the nonsense that goes on will make you want to walk away from the whole thing. Kate & I have joked we should make a shirt that says “Your fave is problematic and your fave is pro wrestling.”

I’m so very proud to say my favorite isn’t problematic.

Mine is Cedric Alexander.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

 

The Tale of Two Districts

The school district on Long Island that I attended from first grade through senior year of high school was huge. It’s one of New York State’s largest, not only in number of enrolled students, which currently exceeds 15,000, but it’s also sprawling in terms of square miles. When I was still very young, the district set about redrawing the borders of the areas that fed into our twelve elementary schools to accommodate what was considered an influx of school children in our area. To prevent one school, for example, from ending up with class sizes close to forty while another had classes with only 15 students, they shuffled everyone around. This meant that when I was 9, I lost half of my classmates to other schools, and started fourth grade with a classroom full of unfamiliar faces.

Then in sixth grade, the district voted to make even larger changes: they were going to build a second high school and a fourth middle school. This meant we ended up with double of everything: sports teams, music groups, extra curricular clubs, etc. Everyone in the district predicted we’d eventually fully split in half (as it is, half of the students never meet the other half.) At some point it would become clear that the newer houses with the wealthier families were feeding into one high school and wouldn’t want to pay taxes to the other school where the lower income families lived.

I couldn’t help but see the similarity of my old public school district with what is currently happening in WWE. It seemed entirely sensible that as the roster grew, not just the main roster but the NXT roster as well, it was necessary to accommodate that by creating more unique screen time opportunities to the performers. What better way to do that than to separate the two programs of Monday Night RAW and SmackDown Live into independent programs with entirely separate rosters. Now there were more chances for each wrestler to  actually perform for the WWE Universe, both live and at home.

What this split, at first, was lacking in was the ultimate goal any wrestling promotion needs to move the action along: something worth fighting for. Storylines regularly can create motivation for wrestlers, but in the end it is the promise of being a champion that drives everyone. Immediately after the draft occurred we were presented with the following issues: the tag teams and female wrestlers on the SmackDown Live roster did not have a title to compete for, and the men on Monday Night RAW did not have a major title to set their sights on.

The day after Battleground, Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon announced Monday Night RAW would have it’s own major title, the Universal Championship, which was crowned at SummerSlam in August. This past Sunday at BackLash, the first SmackDown Live exclusive pay-per-view post-brand split, a new Women’s Champion and Tag Team Champions for the Tuesday night program were crowned. With the coming of the Cruiserweight Division to RAW in the next few weeks (and what is a new division without its own title?) it is likely that WWE will have two major brands, with a combined roster of 86 performers and nine titles. NINE TITLES.

A lot of arguments were made before the WWE draft happened about the benefits of dividing the roster up in a myriad of ways, not the least of which was having certain divisions, like the women or the tag teams, being exclusive to one program. It was clear, though, when the rules of the draft were released that the rosters would essentially be mirror images of one another. For the first few weeks this felt fine, but now that there are an equal number of titles on each program, it feels like an exact replica of my school district.

The rosters, at this moment, really are still carbon copies of one another: two serious, strong willed women divisions with ex-NXT stars as champs; two tag team divisions based in being the comedy act of the roster with violent heels challenging for the titles; mid-card men’s singles titles held by individuals with pretty blonde wives who’ve held other titles and are not in their first reign, turning previously silly storylines into vicious battles; and two ex-Shield babyface/tweeners who have been cheated out of their main titles by indie sweethearts and are now looking for redemption or revenge.

Of course, the stories aren’t EXACTLY the same, and there is something or someone worth watching on both programs. However, two problems immediately jump out. First of all, the limited rosters per division mean the potential for recycled storylines or never-ending feuds between performers. Second, what is the value of one championship when another just like it exists somewhere else? What do I mean by this? Well, let’s look at the tag divisions.

Currently, the RAW tag champions are The New Day, and the longest reigning tag champions for that particular belt (previously the WWE World Tag Team Championship which was, ironically, developed for the SmackDown roster in 2002.) Alongside Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods are only 4 other tag teams: Enzo Amore and Big Cass, Epico and Primo of the Shining Stars, Goldust and R-Truth of the Golden Truth, and Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Meanwhile, on SmackDown, the newly-crowned champions of Heath Slater and Rhyno have 6 potential opponents to face: Aiden English and Simon Gotch of the Vaudevillains, Chad Gable and Jason Jordan of American Alpha, Fandango and Tyler Breeze of Breezango, Jimmy and Jey Uso, Konnor and Viktor of the Ascension, and Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley of the Hype Bros. Keeping this in mind, why wouldn’t it be in, say, The Hype Bros best interest to ask to be released from SmackDown in order to hedge their bets at RAW? Or if Anderson and Gallows find that being outnumbered by the New Day to be unfavorable, why not just roll into SmackDown and take the tag titles from Slater and Rhyno?

Also of note: the way the talent was distributed between the two promotions. Arguably all of the tag teams on the SmackDown roster have elevated their division and have found success in getting over with the crowd, with perhaps the Ascension being the only exception. On RAW, New Day, Anderson and Gallows, and Enzo and Cass leave Golden Truth and the Shining Stars in the dust in terms of being over. With such a small division, you’d expect them all to be over, or at least at the same level, instead of there being such inequality with the crowd. Considering all of this, it’s easy to see the brand new SmackDown titles as the more important ones, even though RAW‘s titles have more history, because there’s more talent, more general popularity, and more potential for diversity in booking.

Now, if WWE had decided to keep their WWE World Heavyweight championship on RAW, maybe alongside the tag titles and the incoming Cruiserweight division, while elevating the IC title on SmackDown with the US title and the entire women’s division, there would still be something for every viewer on both programs, but no need to create new titles (except, as previously stated, one for the cruiserweight.) Then, between 86 individuals there would only be 6 titles – a far better ratio, in my opinion. Also, having one title per division means there is a best – there is one goal. All of the women fight for one title. All of the tag teams fight for one title.

There’s some things I didn’t mention in my comparison between WWE and my school district. First of all, both high schools compete as if they are in their own district. Any time there is cause for competition – whether it be in sports, test scores, music competitions – the schools are going head-to-head. But to the outside world, they are still one district, and as such a win for one is a win for the whole district. The difference here is that WWE isn’t in competition with other companies, not really anyway. While many other wrestling promotions have found successes for themselves and wrestling as an industry becomes popular again with mass markets, no one is functioning at WWE’s level. That could be a good reason to pit two version of the main roster against one another, but not if they rarely face off, and have enough titles on each program to basically be self-sufficient.

I also didn’t mention that in the time leading up to my generation’s influx of children in that area, the district was working on paring down their expenses, because there was less of a need. Not too long ago, WWE was spending a lot of time unifying titles and cleaning up the remnants of a time when there were two rosters, or competing companies with rival titles. Also, some [redacted] years since my graduation, the tide has turned again. The district has closed down two elementary schools and that middle school they built during my time there. As much as WWE’s roster split is fitting for the massive roster they are currently sporting, it is only a matter of time before that changes, too. It will likely be years before we see the WWE roster shrink enough to warrant a move away from two unique programs, but that possibility still exists in the future, at some unpredictable time. Then what?

There’s one major issue with the two rosters that can’t be drawn in parallel to anything else, though, and that is the sheer volume of wrestling content that exists in the world right now. Most large promotions have some sort of online or DVD components now so you can check out what they’re doing, regardless of where in the world you are. Live in Texas but want to check out Chikara? No worries. Live in the UK but want to see BOLA? Not a problem. When we step back and look at how the industry is absolutely flooded with content, it becomes hard to motivate yourself to check out a second night of WWE doing the same basic thing. If the rosters had unique divisions, that would be a good incentive to tune in on Tuesday – to see the Women, or the Tag Teams, or the Cruiserweights. But to see a carbon copy of the way WWE books shows, just with different wrestlers…that’s not motivation to do anything except be anywhere but my couch on Tuesday nights.

I think it’s human nature to try to solve the problems that exist before us without worrying too much about what is coming down the pike or how our problem fits into a greater, global community. If we do, it’s easy to become totally overwhelmed by the prospect of every possible outcome. However, a lack of foresight cannot be considered a virtue when the realities of single-mindedness are standing right in front of you  – back to back on Mondays and Tuesdays.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

The Storyteller

 

The wrestling hangover I suffered from post-King of Trios was a doozy. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that burnt out after a show before. Granted, it as 3 days of incredible wrestling coupled with the discovery of a promotion fairly close to where I live that expertly utilizes all of the aspects of wrestling that I adore: theatrics, linear storytelling, complex characters, and a suspension of disbelief. Never having spent quite so much time immersed in the pro wrestling community, I think I left with more questions than I entered, so I tried to sum it all up and ask Twitter for some thoughts. One response in particular stuck out:

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The front row was still too far away.

That blew my mind. I know that feeling.

This is not to say I want to be a wrestler. I can’t possibly stress enough that I don’t want to be a wrestler. Besides my confidence that my body would never withstand the things a wrestler must do, I also suffer from enough anxiety that my own fears about injuring whoever I got in there with would almost certainly come true. If I got hurt, that would suck. If I hurt someone else, I would be inconsolable. This is not the job for me.

I’m a storyteller. I have an overactive imagination that can outrun my own speech. I dream up things faster than I can put words to breath or pen to paper. My brain never shuts off, not even when I’m sleeping (see above mention of anxiety). My computer is full of half-baked notes and voice memos about characters and backstories, about plot lines and connective tissue; more of it than I could ever use in a lifetime, and more of it is being born every minute. This can make me awkward to encounter in person; I’m either going a mile a minute, or I’m quiet because my mind’s gone into overdrive and I’m hopelessly trying to retain even an ounce of whatever’s being created.

Being a fan of Lucha Underground has been incredible for me because it gives me something to focus on. I enjoy doing the Facelock Feministas podcast because I can take notes on the show and refer back to previous episodes, and know that there’s a definite amount of time before my hypothesis and questions are answered. I appreciate the interaction with the people both behind the scenes and the wrestlers themselves. But I have never been to The Temple in California, and with my wretched fear of flying, I may never get there. Attending Chikara’s King of Trios event last weekend sent my mind into a tailspin of ideas. Then someone posted a link to the history of the promotion and all of its characters and storylines. Now I’m in it.

I love the word “Nazmaldun”. I love the Hexed Men’s entrance music. I love Ophidian’s mask and Thunder Frog’s hammer. I love The Colony and all of their individual stories. I love how Cedric Alexander, Johnny Gargano, and Drew Gulak played to the story of them being “Team CWC”. I know there are many, many people like me who have a lightbulb go on in their heads when they see something like Chikara or Lucha Underground, the same way some people are inspired by reading Tolkien or seeing the musical Hamilton. If you can take that inspiration and channel it into your own work, that’s incredible. I’m sure some people would say, “well, J, why don’t you write fan fiction, or just write short stories inspired by the stuff you see at wrestling shows?” I could do that. But then the only way for an audience to consume that art is to read it. When I watch wrestling programs with intricate, deep storylines and characters, they are performance based and they inspire me to create art in the same forum. When I watch wrestling, I don’t think “I want to write stories that feel like that.” I think, “I want to help other people tell stories like that.”

I don’t know how I’m perceived by others in this community. I’m not sure it would serve me at all to care. I don’t know if people think I’m some weird superfan (I am), or some aggressive, opinionated feminist sjw (I’m that, too.) I certainly hope people don’t think I’m trolling wrestling shows for a lover, or to get famous. I’m not at a wrestling show to blow someone’s cover or get behind the curtain. Even with kayfabe in this strange limbo stage now, I prefer not to know who is behind a lucha libra mask if I can help it. It doesn’t enhance the experience for me to be “in the know” – unless that knowledge is how the performer has created their character and chosen to tell that character’s story. A discussion on the artform of wrestling and the storytelling that drives it is my idea of a good time.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was doing a project on “creators” and what was at the heart of their art. For me, it was about being an arts facilitator – a storyteller. I like being a writer, and don’t plan on giving up the creative non-fiction I write. But the thing I miss about theater is the interaction with other creators. The minds behind LU and Chikara are just as much arts facilitators. They are less playwrights, as playwrights create a thing that simply is, and will be interpreted differently by every director, actor, lighting designer, and creative team that takes the work on. Those behind a wrestling promotions stories know the character, more often than not, is intrinsically connected to the performer. One character is usually not played by many people, therefore it is a collaboration. A story has to consider the strengths of a performer and what they can bring as that particular character. When a performer moves on, so must a character. There are obviously exceptions, but this is truly the heart of places like Lucha Underground and Chikara – the art of wrestling in these promotions is an immaculately choreographed dance in which we, the audience, never see all of the work that went in, but simply witness the beautiful gliding the performers across the smooth surface of a tight storyline.

Is there a place in the professional wrestling world for a writer, with no aspirations to actually wrestle, to be the storyteller? Can wrestlers trust the foresight of someone whose sole responsibility to the art form is making sure the magic that is laid over the athleticism remain cohesive and untangled? Can this storyteller be a woman? I don’t know what the answer to any of these questions are. I do know that if any of them is “yes”, that’s where you’ll find me. I’ll be banging on the door with a notebook in her hand shouting “let me in – I have a great idea.” Until then, I’ll be the one taking notes in the back of wrestling shows.

The front row is still too far away.

– The Lady J Says

 

For My Mother

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Today is my Mom’s 63rd birthday. Later on, some of my family will be headed over to my parents’ house for cake. But my Mom won’t know why they’re there, or even really who they are, and that’s because my Mom has Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Many of you already know my story. You know I moved back in with my folks five years ago to become my Mom’s primary caregiver. You also know I made the hardest decision of my life last year when I chose to move on, and give up that duty to my father. I think about my parents every day and still actively support my father in every decision he makes as we navigate the later stages of this horrible disease.

Right now, Alzheimer’s Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the US, and currently affects over 5 million Americans. Every 66 seconds, someone in the US develops Alzheimer’s disease. The estimate this year for the cost of care for Alzheimer’s and other dementia disease patients is $236 billion. In case you can’t fathom a number like that, it looks like this: $236,000,000,000. As time goes on and the Baby Boomer generation ages, that number, and all of the other statistics surrounding Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases, will skyrocket.

So today, on my Mom’s birthday, I’m asking for help. Please help my mother and all of patients and families battling this cruel disease. Every year in the fall, the Alzheimer’s Association hosts walk-a-thons all over the country to raise money for Alzheimer’s research, patient and caregiver support, and lobbying right here in our nation’s capitol for federal funding to better treat and hopefully one day cure Alzheimer’s Disease. This year my friend Lauren in New Hampshire, my cousin Kathy in Texas, and my cousin Maria and Uncle Billy in NY are all walking in honor of my wonderful mother. My Dad & I are touched by the outpouring of love and support from our friends and family.

If you can and are inclined to donate, you can do so here. If not, please consider sharing this post. Maybe you will inspire someone you know to walk in their area, maybe on behalf of someone they know affected by this disease.

Thanks to all of the wonderful people I have met over the past two years since I started writing as The Lady J. You have seen me through some very hard times, and I am a very lucky woman to have this community in my life.

Happy birthday, Mom.

Love,

J.

 

The Middle

Some stories start in the middle.

The middle of this story finds me sitting home on a Friday night trying to keep pasta away from the dog while listening to a wrestling podcast. On a stupid hot night toward the end of July, I’m taking a break from a fairly monotonous freelancing project to engage in my favorite thing: listening to fun, funny, passionate people talk about pro wrestling, and in particular, Lucha Underground.

It’s during this podcast I hear some of the individuals (who all appear to identify as male, as they all refer to one another as “he”) talking about the mentorship of some of the individuals behind LU, and how they encouraged the various podcast personalities to follow along the path they’ve walked. This is wonderfully reassuring, as I have had many positive interactions via social media with some of the writing staff, and like to think they have also been encouraging as I work toward…

As I work toward…

What am I working toward?

I have changed trajectories so many times in my not-quite-thirty years in this Earth. I wanted to work in politics, in playwriting, in publishing, in wrestling. I took care of my Mom; I left my boring day job with the government. But what am I doing right now? I am watching every match Roman Reigns has wrestled on the main roster of WWE. I am trying to figure out what to do with a Lucha Underground podcast now that the second season of the show is over. I am horribly neglecting this blog. I am attempting to do some freelance writing and editing. But to what end? What good am I doing; what impact am I making?

I realize I am jealous of these men on the podcast, because they seem to have opportunity, trajectory, and intiative. They have someone in their corner with the LU staff being so supportive. And I realize I am jealous because they are men.

The staff at Lucha Underground, in particular Chris DeJoseph has been very supportive of the #PWGrrrlGang movement. As we have expanded its meaning, many other smaller promotions like AAW in Chicago, Smash in Canada, and NOVAPro right here in Virginia, have been welcoming of a movement to support women in all aspects of professional wrestling. But what they can’t offer is first-hand experience. They don’t know what it’s like to be a female writer or booker or commentator. They don’t know what it’s like to be the first woman to _____. They provide women with amazing opportunities, ones that have been seized and capitalized on, but they cannot show the path to walk to success.

I wish I had a mentor. I have someone from college, a wonderful theater professor who has been encouraging of my varied (& sometimes doomed) choices. He is like my cheering section, but will be the first to admit he has no experience with professional wrestling. I am walking into uncharted territory, where he wishes me great success but can offer no real guidance.

I wish there was a woman who could say she’s been there and done that. I wish there was a woman who had to fight her way into the boy’s club, who eventually found a group – a place to belong – made up of people who were like-minded in their ambitions but still challenged her. I wish she could help me choose where to focus my attentions, the podcast, the articles, the blog – or just to give up altogether because I don’t have the mettle. I wish there was a woman to mentor me, but there isn’t. At least, there isn’t one that I have found.

This story is still in the middle. Maybe it’s at a crossroads, I’m not sure, but it’s definitely in the middle. If it ever moves out of the middle, I hope I remember to look back and offer a hand to someone behind me.

The Lady J Says