The stream began two minutes late. Not a big deal; I’ve attended independent wrestling shows that have begun an *hour* late. There was a running gag at a CZW show back in 2002 (which began 45 minutes late) that the “2:30 bell time” is actually what time the ring bell arrives via courier. Two minutes? Whatever.
That promoter Drew Cordeiro’s special “RAWlternative” stream began a touch later than the 7:30 PM start time is an inadvertent nod to the helter skelter nature of indy showmanship. The scene of independent wrestling bears uniqueness in its commonality, with absurd personalities weaving with globe-trotting strong-style warriors, putting together bouts with a million kickouts interspersed with moves you’ve never seen before. The crowds are all the same: Bullet Club and CM Punk-shirted chums with scruffy beards and Rivers Cuomo glasses.
To put it another way, if you’ve been to one quality independent show, you’ve by extension been to all of them. Chances are, if you’re any sort of wrestling fan, this won’t exclude you from going to many more.
Cordeiro, promoter of Rhode Island-based Beyond Wrestling, assembled the squared circle equivalent of a pot luck dinner, sampling a match from thirteen different North American promotions, each taking place in 2014. Each promotion plays to a small but devoted fan following, cramming mini music halls and rec centers wall to wall. None of the promotions therein quite has the renown of Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, or Combat Zone Wrestling (some will argue there are a couple of exceptions), but virtually each contributor has the know-how to put on an entertaining show, if their sample matches are an indication.
Of the thirteen matches, there wasn’t a single bad one. A few had their disjointed moments and the occasional botched spot, but the spirit was evident in each. It’s hard to be bored or picky when you’re enthralled by manic energy.
A little synopsis of each.
KEVIN STEEN VS. MIKE BAILEY (C*4 Wrestling, May 3, Ottawa, ON)
During his final indy run before changing his name to Kevin Owens, the fearsome Steen engaged in a brutal contest with the diminutive Bailey, now a CZW regular with a martial arts-based repertoire. Steen praised fellow Canuck Bailey highly to me when I interviewed “Wrestling’s Worst Nightmare” in April, as Bailey took part in CZW’s annual Best of the Best tournament, and it’s easy to see why. The two pieced together the modern indy equivalent of a Sting/Vader war, with Steen breaking “Speedball” in half with a familiar powerbomb on the apron. Bailey overcame the odds (with a shooting star double knee drop; yes, really) to win the thrilling bout, which the remaining dozen were going to have a hard time topping.
NINJAS WITH ALTITUDE VS. THE FOOD FIGHTERS (Inter Species Wrestling, April 19, Danbury, CT)
That above header is a legitimate header, one not concocted with the help of cold medication. I cannot speak for the bookers or the performers, however. Kidding aside (or am I?), the tag team attraction was the sort of far-fetched curiosity that makes you laugh, and then as Roger Ebert would say, makes you laugh at yourself for laughing. Ever see a masked chef with an irrational fear of ring ropes attempt a top rope dive, and then get the heebie jeebies when he realizes he’s standing on ropes? That’s the kind of high-concept capers you get here.
KEITH WALKER VS. EDDIE KINGSTON (All-American Wrestling, November 29, Berwyn, IL)
Two bulky competitors of some renown (acid-tongued Kingston in Ring of Honor, Walker briefly in WWE developmental in 2007) transitioned the parade from comedy to a hard-hitting element, exchanging strikes while Kingston spewed some decidedly non-PG language in intervals. Kingston sold a lower back injury (complete with DDP-brand rib tape) throughout the bout but pulled off the gritty win. By this point, it was clear that each match, thus each promotion, really was bringing something different to the buffet.
TAKAAKI WATANABE VS. ANDY DALTON (Inspire Pro Wrestling, April 27, Austin TX)
Watanabe stopped in the home of Uproxx scribe Brandon Stroud during his US excursion, working with a man sharing his name with the Bengals’ playoff-cursed ginger quarterback. Dalton looked pretty fluid, and worked very well in a case where there may have been some form of language barrier, while Watanabe put forth some realistic selling and timing not often seen in indy wrestling (a common and harmless criticism). What could have been a style clash was a well-defined good vs. evil bout, with Watanabe prevailing.
KYLE O’REILLY VS. GARY JAY (St. Louis Anarchy, December 5, Alton, MO)
Lowest quality production so far, the Zapruder-ish film work and lack of commentary was ‘made up for’ by a volume issue that rivaled Keith Walker’s shrill female manager. The two-out-of-three falls bout ended up spilling all over the venue, with O’Reilly (one half of New Japan’s Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions with Bobby Fish) and Jay living up to the Anarchy portion of the promotion’s name. Highlight was Jay dropping O’Reilly spine-first onto two chair back-rests set back to back.
RICOCHET VS. JOSH ALEXANDER (Alpha-1 Wrestling, November 2, Hamilton, ON)
If you watch Lucha Underground, you know Ricochet as champion Prince Puma, while Alexander takes on a more purist wrestling shtick, complete with Rick Steiner’s retrofied earmuffs. Ricochet and New Japan’s Kota Ibushi are one and two in some order as the world’s best high flyers at the moment, and he incorporated much of that daredevelry against Alexander in the see-saw affair. Though most of the action to this point has been enjoyable, this bout was the first to rival Steen/Bailey as the evening’s best showcase, and it may do wonders for Alexander’s name.
ATHENA REESE VS. MIA YIM (Girls Night Out, March 29, Cleveland, OH)
I’ve seen Athena in DJ Hyde’s Women Superstars Uncensored, and she may just be the grittiest female on the indy scene today. Not only that, but her wrestling is crisp and on-point. Yim’s no slouch either, and Cordeiro selected pretty much the perfect representation of the ‘fairer sex’ for the marathon. If you happen to catch this match in any form, do yourself a favor and turn down the commentary. The only redeeming quality of it is that you’ll realize that there’s nothing stopping you, no matter your skill level, from becoming a wrestling announcer yourself.
CHRIS HERO VS. COLIN DELANEY (Squared Circle Wrestling, May 16, Amsterdam, NY)
A pair of ex-WWE employees whose times achieved differing notoriety (Hero excommunicated from NXT, Delaney used as a hapless jobber in 2008), the two drew some of the heaviest raves from RAWlternative watchers with their balls-to-the-wall display. At one point, Delaney leapt from a beam above the ring, only to be kicked in the face by a waiting Hero. The caustic strikes in the match were probably most enjoyable aside from the high-risk leap, which is a sentence lifted from any indy recap you’ve ever read.
RICH SWANN/AR FOX VS. CHRISTIAN ROSE/MATT CAGE (DREAMWAVE, March 1, LaSalle, IL)
Fox has built a strong reputation as one of wrestling’s most breath-taking high flyers, with the shortstack Swann not far behind. Here, the renowned aerialists put over the duo of Team Overkill, following sequence after sequence of the car crash equivalent of Cirque de Soleil. Parts of the match were sadly missed by me due to an internet connection issue, but I did get to see Rose’s amazing finisher, Ride the Lightning (an F5 swung into a Go to Sleep).
BRIAN KENDRICK VS. DARK SHEIK (HoodSlam, July 4, Oakland, CA)
The match played out like some sort of hallucination Kendrick is prone to having, complete with a stuffed horse (named Butternuts) being thrown into the ring at random intervals. Adding to the surreality was Sheik leaping off of a stairwell into some random bystander after Kendrick had long moved out of the way. Inarguably the most offbeat entry on RAWlternative, that spot cemented by an announce team that dropped more F-bombs than Quentin Tarantino on the average day.
JOHNNY GARGANO VS. ETHAN PAGE (Absolute Intense Wrestling, June 29, Cleveland, OH)
One of the best elements of story-telling came from Page, who attacked his own interfering stable-leader, Louis Lyndon. Page, you see, had been felled by breakout star Gargano in prior matches, and was determined to beat him on his own. The despair in his face when Gargano refused to stay down enhanced the match from being more than ‘typically awesome indy fare’. That Gargano won via knockout with his Gargano Escape submission hold solidifies the story, as Page had submit to it before, and refused to this time. I didn’t know the story going in (hell, I didn’t even know Page), but I knew it by following the simple tropes, and now I’ll never forget a brand new wrestler to my eyes making a believer of me. That’s just wrestling 101, and a primer on how the basics never cease to work.
THE YOUNG BUCKS VS. THE SUPER SMASH BROTHERS (SMASH Wrestling, August 17, Toronto, ON)
The Bucks work a wholly unrealistic style predicated on a million and one superkicks and improbable stunt work, but who the hell cares? You can never be bored watching Matt and Nick Jackson, while the charmingly named Player Uno and Player Dos were game to keep pace. The action does not stop, even for a breath, in this one, peaking with Dos hurrachanraning both Jacksons at the same time (think a wide-legged start to the move in order to capture both craniums). The fans on hand demanded superkicks, and boy howdy do they get them in perpetuity.
Cordeiro ended the night with his home promotion, pitting then-TNA World Tag Team Champion Edwards against then-CZW World Champion Busick (imagine Cesaro with a lumberjack’s beard, a thinner build, and a shorter temper) in this hard-hitting clash. Fans packed ringside like the mosh pit at a Cannibal Corpse concert, adding to the raucous nature of the bout, which did indeed spill to the floor more than once. A high-kick joust between the two led to Edwards winning out of nowhere with a flash pin, a bit of a disappointment echoed by fans that wanted local product Busick to win. Still, it was a worthy finale to a night of eclectic flavor.
I speak for not just myself (Twitter backs me up) when I ask for more like RAWlternative. Fans who want the Attitude Era back, I’ll note this much: much like 1998, I was far more interested in watching the fresher product than the nWo and Sting on Monday night. I have no regrets, either.